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Health care providers seeing rise in flu cases

Jan 22, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Influenza activity in Wyoming has surged in the past two weeks, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. The current flu numbers have not been seen since the H1N1 flu outbreak in October 2009.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. Those most prone to the flu are children, the elderly and pregnant women.

Fremont County has the fourth-highest number of reported flu cases out of the 23 counties in Wyoming, according to the last weekly report from Jan. 6 to Jan. 12. The county has had 200 cases confirmed since the 2012-13 flu season began in October. From Dec. 23 to Dec. 29, 85 cases were confirmed in the county. A total of 2,407 cases have been confirmed in the state this season.

The latest report also showed the age group with the most flu activity in the state were 5- to 10-year-olds.

"I see it progressing," said Trish Crippen, the school nurse for Rendezvous and Jackson elementary schools.

Fort Washakie School nurse Alicen Hardy said roughly 30 students have come in to see her with flu-like symptoms since Jan. 7. Hardy treated 114 kids in a span of 10 days during the 2009 flu outbreak.

"Right now it's manageable," Hardy said.

Preventing the flu

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent these types is by getting the flu vaccine.

"It's not too late to get it," said Dr. Mona Waheed, a family medicine physician at Western Family Care in Riverton.

The flu vaccine is still available without an appointment at the Fort Washakie Health Center and the Arapahoe Health Center in Arapahoe.

The CDC said the flu season is strongest in the winter and begins in October, and the most active month, historically, has been February.

The vaccine takes up to two weeks for it to provide the most effective protection. During those two weeks patients remain vulnerable and may catch the virus but not because of the vaccine. Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, dry cough, muscles aches and unusual tiredness, after vaccination can be a body's reaction to it.

Other ways to prevent spreading the flu is with frequent hand washing and covering the mouth with a tissue during a sneeze or cough.

Waheed suggests not touching one's eyes, mouth or nose before washing one's hands. Wiping down keyboards and phones used by more than one person were other precautions she listed.

Waheed said almost half of the patients with flu-like symptoms who have come in to see her tested positive with the flu virus.

"We've seen it a lot ... my best advice is to stay home," she said. "That way you're not risking contaminating other people."

She also recommended sending a family member to get medication from the pharmacy.

Hardy agreed and said keeping sick children at home and isolating them is the best way to avoid another event like the one in 2009. She said that if one person in the family gets the flu, it's important to keep the rest of the family separate.

Treating the flu

People with the flu are advised to stay away from work, school, day care or any place where several people will be present. Avoiding drinking alcohol and smoking and getting extra sleep and staying hydrated are also suggested.

Doctors suggest parents take children to see their pediatrician if they develop symptoms because they are at higher risk for complications. Adults over 65 and women also fall under this precaution.

Crippen said children who have a fever above 100 degrees and who have a cough or sore throat may have the flu.

"The most important thing that you can do to keep flu from spreading in the community or school is to keep your sick child at home when they are sick," Crippen said.

She said other symptoms could include severe vomiting, bluish skin color, fever with a rash and fast breathing.

"If you are unable to take your child's temperature, you can look for signs of fever," she said.

Crippen said a red face, hot or moist skin, a headache or an irritable child are signs of a fever.

Vomiting and diarrhea are more common symptoms in children than in adults. Crippen added that when these symptoms have been gone or medication has not been given in the past 24 hours then the child may go back to school.

Crippen said she has been teaching proper hand washing to classes and has been advising teachers to watch for students who may be sick and send them to see the nurse for a proper evaluation. Parents are encouraged by Crippen to take their child to a family doctor to confirm the diagnosis. She said if she notices students have been absent for several days she calls their home to see if they may have the flu.

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