With flu activity reports in the state beginning to show growing numbers of illnesses, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is reminding residents how they can best avoid spreading influenza or becoming ill with the disease.
“Our reports have been showing increasing levels of activity across the state in recent weeks,” said Reggie McClinton, a WDH epidemiologist. “At this point, flu reports are coming in most frequently from the southwestern area of the state.”
Influenza is a contagious, respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.
Clay Van Houten, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit manager with WDH, said “We likely have a ways to go before we see this flu season’s peak, so it’s not too late to get a flu shot.”
“Vaccines are the most important tool available to help prevent influenza, which should not be overlooked as a serious threat,” Van Houten said. WDH recommends flu shots annually for nearly everyone over the age of six months.
McClinton said WDH flu testing and national reports so far show this season’s vaccine is a good match for the flu strains circulating in Wyoming and across the country. Flu shots are available in many different locations such as public health nursing offices, retail stores and medical clinics.
Van Houten reminded residents it takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection. “If you’re exposed to the virus in the meantime, you may still become ill,” he said.
Common-sense measures can also help slow or prevent influenza’s spread. “Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve or a tissue when you sneeze and cough; frequently washing your hands; and staying home from work, school, day care and errands when you are ill can be effective,” Van Houten said.
Doctors may recommend prescription antiviral medications to help treat influenza. These medications may be especially helpful for persons at higher risk for flu complications such as young children, older adults, persons with chronic medical conditions, persons with challenged immune systems, pregnant women, persons less than 19 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy for other conditions, those who are extremely overweight, and residents of nursing homes or other chronic-care facilities.
“For antiviral medications to be a good option, it is important to seek medical care quickly once you start to become ill,” Van Houten advised.