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Flu season has hit with a vengeance

By Paula Walter
Flu season has definitely arrived in Tennessee as the virus has been making its way across the state for the past several weeks.  While the flu is typically active until spring, it is nearly impossible to predict the severity and length of the season as the viruses are constantly changing.
Dr. Kirschke is the medical director of the Northeast Regional Office for Tennessee’s Department of Health. According to Kirschke, there has been an increase in the number of patients presenting with flu like symptoms beginning the week of December 15, as well as some reports of severe influenza. The flu is often difficult to diagnose and the rapid tests that are available are not always reliable. He recommends getting the flu vaccine, especially for those who are considered high risk. It is not too late to get vaccinated.
Children and infants, pregnant women, people with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and those over 65 year old are at a higher risk for contracting the flu. It is recommended everyone six months of age and older should receive a flu shot unless there is a medical reason that would prohibit them from getting the vaccine.
Flu symptoms include fever over 100 degrees, body aches, fatigue, a cough and often a sore throat, along with a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, chills, and sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It is often difficult to tell the difference between the flu and a cold as they present with similar symptoms.  
You should seek emergency medical help if the patient is having trouble breathing, has a bluish cast to their skin tone, is not drinking enough fluids or has persistent vomiting or diarrhea.  If they are difficult to wake up, if flu symptoms improved but then returned with a fever and a cough that has worsened, or experienced sudden dizziness, a pain in the chest or stomach, confusion or seizures, get immediate medical help.
If you get the flu, stay at home to prevent infecting others around you.  Drink plenty of water and clear fluids. A humidifier in the patient’s room may help make breathing easier. Your doctor may put you on antiviral medications that can reduce the severity of your illness if they are started within 24 to 48 hours of when the symptoms first appear.  If you are exposed to the flu, talk to your doctor about starting antiviral medications, as they are approximately 70 to 90 percent effective at preventing the flu.  
There are some steps that you can take to help prevent you from getting sick.  Make sure you wash your hands often with soap and water. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.  Avoid sick people, if possible.  Get lots of sleep and exercise, drink plenty of water and try and eat healthy foods.  
If you have not yet been vaccinated, shots are available at local pharmacies, your physician’s office or the Johnson County Health Department.  Contact them for further information.