For a typical year in the Southeast Kansas area, flu season comes between December and February. However, this year is causing some concerns for healthcare professionals for influenza’s early arrival. These concerns are occurring because there is no explanation for the early arrival of the flu. Healthcare professionals are not sure what this means for how aggressive this year’s flu may be.
Carrie Farrington, nurse practitioner at the Pittsburg State health center said that it’s very different from what she’s seen.
“There were confirmed cases clear back in August, which is much different than what we’ve been used to at least in my 20 years of healthcare experience, that is different than what our norm is,” Farrington said.
Because of this unexpected arrival of the flu, Farrington encourages people to go in for a vaccination and to understand what the flu shot prevents.
“The best recommendation is the flu shot,” she said. “Influenza in a viral illness. Sometimes the flu gets confusing to people when they talk about the flu. We tend to call stomach flu the flu as well and that’s actually not typically the influenza virus. So, if someone just has nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, that actually isn’t influenza, so that’s not what the flu shot prevents. Influenza typically causes respiratory illness, high fever, cough, body aches, headache, you feel pretty miserable for that three to five days. That is the virus that the flu shot will help prevent.”
Farrington said there is occasionally an influenza diagnosis that can have some of those stomach symptoms and even nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea but not alone, they are usually associated with other flu-like symptoms
Because the flu shot is not a 100 percent guarantee of not getting the flu, preventative measures still need to be taken. If students happen to get the flu even after taking the vaccination, having the flu shot will make the illness more tolerable than not having it. Farrington said she encourages the importance of the flu shot as well as the components of the vaccine itself. She said it is not possible to get the flu from the flu shot because it is not a live virus. If students get the shot and get sick the next day it is because of exposure prior to the vaccination.
The flu shot is a particular concern for infants younger than six months, the elderly, and those with health problems. Farrington said someone with asthma, heart problems, diabetes, or any health illness like that will be at higher risk for complications if they catch the flu. The flu is not only about self prevention but preventing the spread of the virus. Farrington said because of the concern of these groups, prevention is not about one person.
“I encourage people not to just think about it for themselves but for everyone they care about and that they come in contact with also,” she said.
Because of this, those around family or children will need to take preventative measures. This goes for people around the elderly as well. Because of a weakened immune system, or lack of immune system, catching the flu for infants and elderly can lead to death.
Some other preventative measures are eating good, drinking lots of fluids, lots of rest, and limiting stress. These will help for the healing process as well. Protecting yourself and others from saliva contact is vital because this is how the virus spreads. Covering the mouth, washing hands often, and not sharing drinks or food are some important measures to follow. Once sick, stay home. Farrington said that staying away from the ‘I have to just show up’ mentality and communicating with faculty will help when you have a few sick days off.
“You only get the flu once a year, so be sure to save those absences for if and when you do get sick,” Farrington said. “If you get sick, you will not be able to learn very well if you got to class.”
Healthcare professionals believe that when someone does become sick they are contagious from when they start having a fever until the fever goes down, without taking medicine. This usually is for about five to seven days of contagion. Even after being sick, people should still take precaution for two to three weeks after to be sure not to spread the illness.
Flu shots are available anytime as a walk-in for $20. The health center doesn’t bill insurance, so it will be available for anyone who needs a flu shot. Farrington said It is important that people get their flu shot each year because there are new components to the vaccination each year.