The month of January means it is the peak of the flu season. The H1N1 virus recently hit West Michigan hard, but there is still time to protect yourself.
More than 400 flu cases have been reported in Kent County so far this season, and of those reported, 26 people have been hospitalized. In Grand Rapids alone, H1N1 has claimed the lives of three people.
Flu season started in September, and ends at the end of May. We are currently in our peak of flu season, according to Lisa LaPlante, spokesperson for the Kent County Health Department.
The flu is a “contagious respiratory illness that is caused by a virus that infects the nose, throat, and lungs,” LaPlante said. “Basically the flu spreads when people cough, sneeze, or even sometimes talk. You can get the flu by touching a surface or an object, such as a telephone, that may have the flu virus on it, and then touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.”
Symptoms include fever, cough, chills, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, being very tired, and in some extreme cases, vomiting and diarrhea.
LaPlante said that the health department recommends that people stay home when they start feeling sick.
“If you feel like the symptoms are really bad, you should contact a healthcare provider,” she said. “The reason why we recommend staying home is so you do not spread it to other people. It is very easy to say to yourself, ‘Oh if I can get through one more day of work, or one more day of classes, I will be okay.’”
LaPlante explained that in some cases, doctors will test for influenza. For those who test positive within the first 48 to 72 hours, there are medications that can be used to treat influenza, such as Relenza and Tamiflu, and help patients recover more quickly.
When asked what is the best way to prevent H1N1, LaPlante said, “First and foremost, the vaccine is the best way to do it, but also if you know somebody who is sick, try not to spend any time around them. Make sure that you are practicing good hygiene. Make you are washing your hands thoroughly, especially before you eat, before you are preparing food, any time that you use a bathroom, and anytime that you touch a surface that somebody else may have been in contact with.
LaPlante also said as a way for students to keep themselves from getting sick to, “make sure that if you are in touch with a desk, that after class you wash your hands. The biggest thing is to keep your hands away from your face…that is one of the main ways you do end up getting the virus.”
Although it’s best to get the vaccination before flu season begins, it is still available at local pharmacies and health care providers. The Kent County Health Department recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months old receive a yearly flu vaccine. It takes 10 to 14 days after receiving the vaccination for one to develop an immunity. Vaccines start at $25 for injection, and $33 for a FluMist nasal spray. The vaccine is covered by many health insurance plans.
To get more information, please visit www.stickittotheflu.com.