Avoiding the flu this season has become a challenge. Diagnosed cases and hospitalizations have broken records across the state, and local health officials say numbers are up, too, in Oneida and Herkimer counties.
And it's not over yet.
If you've managed to escape so far, there are things you might do to keep it that way.
First, if you haven't gotten a flu shot yet, get one. It's not too late. While vaccination isn't a panacea, it can help.
“We still find that folks that have gotten the flu vaccine are having milder symptoms and aren’t requiring hospitalization,” said George Markwardt, a nurse practitioner and clinical director of the Regional Primary Care Network.
Markwardt said they still recommend the vaccine despite the fact that it doesn't protect against certain strains of the virus.
Symptom management, prompt diagnosis and proper hand-washing remain crucial to preventing the spread of the flu, too, he said. The antiviral medication Tamiflu can help treat the illness, but it’s most effective if taken within the first two days after symtoms develop.
There are other seemingly obvious ways to prevent spread of the flu. First, follow Mom's age-old advice: Wash your hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It recommends a simple five-step process: wet, lather, scrub (20 seconds recommended), rinse, dry. Do it often. Carry hand sanitizer and use it when soap and water aren’t available.
Also, if you have a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and pains or other symptoms like nausea or vomiting sometimes associated with influenza, stay home. From work. From school. From any place where other people gather.
This is where employers need to be understanding. Some workplaces don't take kindly to absences and employees might be reluctant to call in sick. All employers must strongly encourage those with flu symptoms to stay home. Better to have one or two people out than your whole staff.
And, obviously, cover coughs and sneezes - preferably with a tissue, but into the crook of your arm - not your hands - if a tissue isn't available.
Take the flu seriously. It can be deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month reported 53 flu-related deaths among children so far, and the season has yet to peak. The entire 2016-17 flu season produced 110 pediatric flu deaths. No statistics on local flu deaths - if any - were available.
Statewide, 15,753 confirmed flu cases have been reported, and with many more who never were tested and officially diagnosed; of those, 2,349 hospitalizations were reported. Both broke records. In Oneida and Herkimer counties - there were 387 cases in Oneida County (compared to 339 cases the previous week) and 72 cases in Herkimer, up from 54 cases a week earlier.
And CDC officials say they expect to see increased flu activity for another several weeks.
So do what you can to keep the flu in check. Information can be found on the Oneida County Health Department web page, which also lists places where you can get a flu shot. Visit it at www.ocgov.net/health/flu.