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Health Department: flu update

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The flu season in the United States has been a severe one, with infection rates at “alert levels”, but local influenza reports to date have been in line with recent years, according to the Department of Health.

A spokeswoman said there had been minimal complaints of flu symptoms over the past six weeks, but said this might change as the season unfolds.

Nearly 5,000 influenza vaccines were distributed this flu season, and the Department of Health advises on getting the shot early.

“Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection which spreads from person to person via infected droplets from coughs and sneeze. For most people it is not generally a serious condition but is often very unpleasant and temporarily debilitating. For some, however, flu can be quite dangerous, even life-threatening, because it may increase the risk of developing serious complications such as pneumonia or respiratory failure.

“Symptoms of flu develop two to four days after exposure and may remain mild. However, serious attacks may cause sudden onset of sore throat, and runny nose with high fever, headache, backache, muscle pains fatigue and general malaise.

“Symptomatic care for influenza involves rest, fever control with acetaminophen-containing medication or ibuprofen, rehydration with fluids and comfort measures.”

The Department advises against giving aspirin to children and teenagers with flu-like symptoms.

“For severe or persistent symptoms, see a healthcare professional for examination and management.

“For medically vulnerable individuals (ie the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease etc), seek early attention from a healthcare professional. Treatment may include an antiviral medication like Tamiflu for use in the first 48 hours of the illness.

“The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention remind us that “all patients in hospital and all outpatients at high risk for serious complications should be treated as soon as possible with one of three available influenza antiviral medications if influenza is suspected, regardless of a patient’s vaccination status and without waiting for confirmatory testing. Healthcare providers should advise patients at high risk to call promptly if they get symptoms of influenza.”

“To avoid contracting or spreading the flu, follow the following protection measures: wash your hands well and often, keep your hands away from your face, cover your cough, avoid crowds, and stay away from school or work if unwell. It is important to protect vulnerable family or household members if you are unwell.

“The Department of Health recommends that you have the flu vaccine early in flu season while supplies are plentiful and in advance of the peak occurrences of flu. Approximately 4,800 doses of influenza vaccine were distributed by the Department of Health this flu season, most of its ordered supply. Limited stock remains for children requiring their second immunisation.

“Even when it is not perfectly matched to the circulating strains of influenza, the flu vaccine offers some protection which lessens symptoms and reduces chances of hospitalisation, which is especially important for more medically fragile individuals.”