A recently reported flu-related death of a Fremont County child should serve as a sad reminder that influenza can be a serious disease and should not be overlooked as a threat, according to a Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) official.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said, “We continue to see widespread influenza across the state with indications of high activity levels. We do not know if we have yet reached this season’s peak or for how much longer flu will spread in the state.”
“Unfortunately, the death of a Fremont County child has been reported to us this week. We know we have had likely at least 10 other deaths among adults in Wyoming this flu season,” Harrist said. An official count of flu-related deaths will not be available until after the season ends.
Harrist said what is happening with flu in Wyoming is consistent with other areas of the country. “While H3N2, an ‘A’ virus, has been dominant so far this season, we are now seeing a shift in Wyoming to some ‘B’ viruses,” she said. “Historically, seasons with high levels of H3N2 have been associated with more severe influenza illnesses with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.”
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.
Common-sense measures can help slow or prevent influenza’s spread. “Staying home from work, school, day care and errands when you are ill is important. Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve or a tissue when you sneeze and cough and frequently washing your hands are also effective,” Harrist 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 become ill,” Harrist said.
WDH recommends flu shots annually for nearly everyone over the age of six months. Flu shots remain available in many different locations such as public health nursing offices, retail stores and medical clinics. “However, it takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection so if you’re exposed to the virus during that period, you may still become ill,” Harrist said.