Influenza has Nebraska in the crosshairs this holiday season

Monday, December 16, 2019

The flu has Nebraska in the crosshairs, and we have a feeling we ain’t seen nothing yet.

That’s because the Christmas season is here, a ripe time for the flu virus to spread far and wide, thanks to holiday gatherings and travel.

The flu vaccine is far from foolproof, but it’s still you best bet to avoiding an infection that can put you in the hospital or even prove fatal.

“Flu is taking on a life of its own and we’re seeing surprisingly high numbers of cases for this time of year,” said Dr. Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency is reporting an increase in doctor visits, flu-related hospitalizations and outbreaks in schools and long-term care facilities.

“If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine yet, there is a sense of urgency, so don’t wait any longer.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend flu vaccine for everyone six months and older every year.

It’s especially important for young children, adults 65 or older, pregnant women, people with chronic lung disease like asthma and COPD, diabetes, heart disease, neurologic conditions and certain other long-term health conditions, and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Vaccination can reduce flu-related illnesses, visits to the doctor, missed work and school and flu-related hospitalizations. Flu vaccine is safe, effective and rigorously tested. The most common reaction people may experience from a flu shot is soreness and redness at the injection site. After vaccination, it takes about two weeks for the body to build immunity.

No, we’re not talking about the “stomach flu,” although some people, especially children, may have vomiting or diarrhea.

But if you do have fever or chills, cough, sore throat, running or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and tiredness -- some victims describe it as “like being hit by a Mac truck,” -- you should promptly seek medical care.

Antiviral drugs can help if taken early enough, but like most problems, prevention is the best medicine.

Even if you’ve had the vaccine, follow this checklist for the rest of the flu season:

-- Wash your hands often

-- Avoid contact with people who are sick

-- Stay home from school, work, family gatherings and social functions if you’re sick

-- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough with a tissue or sleeve, not your hands

-- Eat healthy and get plenty of rest

-- Don’t smoke

DHHS has been keeping track of the flu since October, using information from physicians, lab tests, school surveillance, hospital data, emergency department data and death reporting.

For more information, visit the DHHS website at www.dhhs.ne.gov/flu or the CDC website atwww.cdc.gov/flu.

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