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Health center gears up for flu

It's time to make plans for getting a flu shot. They are available at doctor's offices, many pharmacies and at county health departments, such as the St. Francois County Health Center.

Although it may be hard for some believe, the St. Francois County Health Center (SFCHC) is already gearing up for flu season.

While seasonal influenza, or flu, viruses can be detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter.

According to Ethan White, SFCHC communicable disease nurse, positive reported flu cases are monitored there every flu season.

"We haven't received any reports of positive flu for the 2018-2019 season yet," White said. "Last year there were 2,098 reported cases in St. Francois County and 1,759 the season before that."

The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between the months of December and February, although activity can last as late as May.

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory disease that affects between 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, leading to more than 200,000 hospitalizations and an average of 36,000 deaths — most of those in the elderly.

Symptoms of the flu include fever or feeling feverish/chills; cough; sore throat; runny or stuffy nose; muscle or body aches; headaches; and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications — such as pneumonia — as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

Serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions — such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease — pregnant women, and young children.

The best method to prevent the prevent the flu is to be vaccinated annually against the flu. A flu vaccine is needed every season because the body's immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection.

"Flu vaccines are also needed annually because the flu virus is constantly changing," White said. "We saw both strains of flu last year. The strains from the previous season are studied to prepare for the next year's vaccine and improve the effectiveness of the vaccine."

Other methods to prevent the spread of the flu include avoiding close contact with sick people or limiting contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

Flu viruses can be spread through coughing, sneezing, or contact with someone who has the flu. People can also become infected by touching something with the flu virus on it, and then touching their mouth or nose.

Another effective way to reduce the risk of getting the flu is to wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

For those who are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities.

According to White, the St. Francois County Health Center is now offering flu shots to the public.

Walk-in shot clinics are held from 1-3 p.m. Mondays at SFCHC unless there is a holiday. Individuals can also receive shots throughout the week by walk-in or appointment.

SFCHC accepts most insurances and also participates in the Vaccines for Children and 317 programs that provide vaccines to uninsured or under-insured individuals.

For more information on the flu call the St. Francois County Health Center at 573-431-1947 or visit www.cdc.gov/flu.

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Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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