It is no secret that this winter’s flu season is turning out to be very challenging. While the complete picture is a long way from conclusion, Will County Health Department Epidemiologist Alpesh Patel says a certain statistic at the end of December told the story quite well.
“From Dec 25th to 31st,” Patel explained, “Will County hospital emergency rooms had 860 visitors with flu-like symptoms, compared to 391 during the same week the previous year. Of those 860 tested for Influenza, 384 came up positive. There is a lot of illness out there. We need to increase our prevention efforts and minimize human interaction where we can.”
Patel says the precautions needed at this time apply to everyone from citizens to health care facilities around the county. “If you are sick, you need to stay home and not be around other people, loved ones, or co-workers. Hand hygiene has to be extremely important, along with covering when we cough and sneeze.”
In addition, Patel says facilities need to reschedule visits that are not related to the flu.
“If you need to see the doctor for your flu symptoms, you need to come in. But if you have the flu and had a planned visit for a regular checkup or another condition, you should call on the phone and reschedule for another time. There is no need to be sitting in a common area and spreading around more flu than we already have.”
This may also include restrictions on visitors who may be in the hospital for long term care. “Visitation restrictions are typical during times like these,” Patel explained. “You need to check with the facility you are visiting, and of course make sure all the visitors are healthy if you are still allowed to come in.”
As always, proper etiquette needs to be followed during the flu season, especially with the additional activity this year. And that’s especially true when one is sneezing or coughing.
“People with flu can spread it to others who are up to about six feet away,” Patel explained. “Most experts believe that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of those who are nearby, or the droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, and then touching their own mouth or nose.”
Those objects can include doorknobs and handles, stair rails, buttons, gas pumps, and gym equipment. “This is why,” Patel continued “it is so important to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap, and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work, and school; especially if someone is ill.”
As far as when someone with the flu can be the most contagious, Patel reminded us that “most adults may be able to infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop, and then up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. This means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you are sick, as well as while you are sick. In addition, some people can be infected with the flu virus, have no symptoms, and still spread the virus to others.”
Patel says “time will tell” on the entire picture of this flu season. However, a peak in flu activity is usually seen after the holidays, partially due to all the visiting and intermingling that often occurs in houses that are closed up for the winter. And typically, a peak occurs sometime in February as well.
For more on avoiding influenza, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm