Avoiding the flu depends on shot, clean hands | SteamboatToday.com

Avoiding the flu depends on shot, clean hands

Health officials say it's not too late to get a flu shot.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The start of the influenza season may still be a few weeks away but that isn't about to stop Steamboat Springs School District nurse Catherine LaPointe from encouraging children to wash their hands whenever possible.

"Make sure you cover your mouth when you are cough and sneezing, throw away the tissue, wash your hands and avoid your eyes, nose and mouth," LaPointe said, reciting the advice she has been handing out for years. "Every chance we get with any kids and staff, we teach them to cough into their elbow and wash their hands — that’s about the spread.  We stress basic hygiene any chance we get, especially at the younger levels, we are trying to tell the kids that stuff."

LaPointe understands that children are going to get sick, they are going to miss class and, even though they don't know it, they are going to spread illness at times.

But the little things, including getting vaccinated for influenza, can help reduce the number of times and the number of children who will miss class. Children who have a fever of 100 degrees or more or have vomited are required to stay out of class for 24 hours.

"We do try to keep track, but we don't always know," Lapointe said.

Farrah Smilanich, public health nurse manager for Northwest Colorado Health, said flu viruses can be detected year round, but the fall and winter seems to be the time most people come in contact with them.

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"The exact time and duration of the flu season can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October," she said. "You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in our community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu, so plan to get vaccinated early.”

The Center for  Disease Control recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October.

“Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination will continue to be offered throughout the flu season," Smilanich said.

Symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle of body aches, headaches, fatigue, and in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

"It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever," Smilanich said. "Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria."

Smilanich added that other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart , brain or muscle tissues, and multi-organ failure. Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body's life-threatening response to infection. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse.

For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.

She also said that children younger than 5 and especially those younger than 6 months of age as well as adults 65 years and older are at a higher risk of having issues with influenza.  Pregnant women and women two weeks postpartum along with residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should take added precautions.

Northwest Colorado Health has scheduled weekly drop in flu clinics at its Steamboat office from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays from Oct. 4 to Nov.8. The organization will also be scheduling clinics in Hayden, Clark and South Routt soon.

LaPointe said the Steamboat schools will also be hosting flu shot clinics in the near future and that information will be sent out to parents.

She said hygiene is key to helping children avoid influenza, and that following some common sense rules at home can help children from getting sick, and missing school.

"Sleep, hydration and proper nutrition can help children’s’ general well being," LaPointe said.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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