New York State is experiencing geographically widespread influenza activity with Niagara County reporting confirmed cases of influenza. Obviously, this is a time when we should be taking all actions and precautions to prevent getting this infection.
There is some anxiety about the "drifted" strain of influenza causing a decrease in efficacy of the current flu vaccine. However, we would like to negate this general notion and emphasize that everybody should get the vaccine.
Although this year's vaccine is not ideal match for one strain of influenza, the antibodies made in response to it can provide some protection against different but related viruses. The current vaccine will provide valuable protection against several other common influenza strains that are present in the vaccine.
We also urge you to:
• Wash your hands frequently, especially when outside of the home
• Avoid touching your face (mouth, nose, eyes) with unclean hands
• Frequently disinfect high-touch surface areas such as door knobs, stair railings, sink handles, counter tops, etc.
If you do become sick, going to the emergency room isn't necessary if you are mildly ill. Instead, you should:
• Stay home and limit contact with others at least until 24 hours after fever is gone
• If you must leave home, wear a facemask to prevent infecting others
• Cover your cough with tissues or the crook of your arm and then perform hand hygiene
You should, however, go the emergency room if you exhibit emergency signs of influenza. In children, these signs can include rapid breathing or trouble breathing, bluish skin color, dehydration, lethargy, extreme irritability and fever with a rash that may seem to improve but return with fever and cough.
Infants may also be unable to eat, shed no tears when crying and have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
In adults, emergency signs of influenza include difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, and flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
People most vulnerable for developing flu-related complications include
• Children younger than 5, especially those younger than 2 years old
• Adults 65 years of age and older
• Pregnant women
• American Indians and Alaskan natives
• People with medical conditions such as asthma, neurological conditions, chronic lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, diabetes, kidney disorders, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, HIV and cancer, people younger than 19 who receive long-term aspirin therapy, and people who are morbidly obese.
Protect yourself and protect your loved ones and co-workers. Practice proven preventive behaviors, especially frequent hand washing, and stay away from others if you suspect you have become infected.
Peak flu season has about six weeks left to go. If we work together to limit its impact, we'll all enjoy a healthier winter.
Rajinder Bajwa, M.D., is an infectious disease specialist at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. W. Hank Cullers, R.N., B.S., B.S.N., C.I.C. is the medical center's infection prevention coordinator.