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Monday Medical: Flu season ahead

Flu immunizations available

Flu immunization is available at Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. Call 970-879-1632 to make an appointment.

In Steamboat, the end of the year can mean great skiing and time with family. It can also mean the kickoff of flu season.

While it’s too early to predict what this year’s flu season will be like, health officials agree that getting an annual flu shot helps.

“Typically, we see (flu season) starting in Steamboat sometime around the holidays,” said Paul Hill, laboratory section head and infection prevention coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “That corresponds with the influx of people from different parts of the country and people being in close quarters during travel.”



Flu season in Steamboat usually peaks in February, then fizzles out in March, though in some parts of the country it may linger into May.

“Every season’s a little different,” Hill said.



So far this year, flu activity around the country has been reported as slightly lower than usual, but it’s important to remember data lags by a few weeks.

The flu, or influenza, is caused by a virus that has different strains. Symptoms of flu typically include fever, body aches, fatigue and a dry cough. A test at a physician’s office can confirm an influenza diagnosis.

People sometimes use the word “flu” to describe illnesses that have nothing to do with influenza — a bad cold or a stomach “flu” are not actually related to influenza.

“You can have other viruses, like the common cold, that cause very similar symptoms to influenza but typically aren’t as severe,” Hill said. “You can have totally different viruses causing a viral gastroenteritis, which a lot of people refer to as a stomach flu, but it really has nothing to do with true influenza.”

In many cases, people who test positive for influenza do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. Rather, the flu should resolve with rest and drinking plenty of liquids. People may also consider using over-the-counter pain relievers.

However, an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu may be prescribed for people who have a severe case of the flu or who are at high risk for complications. Such individuals include the very young and very old, pregnant women and people with a compromised immune system.

“These medications don’t cure the flu, but they generally shorten the duration and make the symptoms milder,” Hill said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages anyone with the flu to stay home and avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours after the fever resolves.

Good hand-washing and cough etiquette help prevent the spread of the flu virus, but one of the best defenses against the flu is the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends everyone older than six months be vaccinated annually.

“Flu vaccines are encouraged for everyone, especially for those who have contact with the more vulnerable population,” Hill said. For instance, “if you have a relative undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or you have a new baby at your sister’s house.”

Several types of vaccines are available, including the nasal spray vaccine. Plus, egg-free versions now make it possible for people with egg allergies to be vaccinated.

Each year, organizations across the globe work to predict which strains of flu will be active in the upcoming flu season. The final vaccine covers three or four different strains.

Even if flu season kicks off in the next few days, it’s worthwhile to get vaccinated.

“It’s not too late,” Hill said.

This article references data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, and the Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.org. Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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