Clinicians and residents urged to take steps to reduce the spread of flu

Antiviral Medications, Immunization, and Proper Hygiene are 3 important tools to be used for reducing transmission and harmful effects of influenza

Suffolk County Commissioner of Health Services Dr. James Tomarken is reminding both clinicians and residents that influenza is prevalent in Suffolk County and that there are three important steps they can take to reduce transmission and harmful effects of influenza: 1) obtain a flu shot, 2) prevent the spread of germs, and 3) use antiviral medication as prescribed by a clinician.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Health Advisory to clinicians in order to:

  1. Remind clinicians that influenza should be high on their list of possible diagnoses for ill patients because influenza activity is increasing nationwide, and
  2. Advise clinicians that all hospitalized patients and all high-risk patients (either hospitalized or outpatient) with suspected influenza should be treated as soon as possible with a neuraminidase inhibitor antiviral medication. The use of antiviral medication has now been extended to very sick people with the flu, as well.

Antiviral drugs can make the illness milder, shorten the time of illness, and reduce the risk of serious flu complications. The clinical benefit is greatest when antiviral treatment is started as early as possible after the illness begins.

“Ideally, treatment should be initiated within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, antiviral treatment initiated later than 48 hours after illness onset can still be beneficial for some patients, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu,” said Dr. Tomarken.

Residents are also urged to take preventive measure to protect their health during this flu season. All individuals who are over six months of age should obtain an influenza vaccination. While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, it is the best way to prevent flu illness and serious flu complications, including those that can result in hospitalization. Even with vaccine effectiveness in the range of 30 to 60 percent, flu vaccination prevents millions of illnesses and tens of thousands of flu-related hospitalizations each year.

Vaccination of high-risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness. People at high risk of flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

Vaccination also is important for healthcare workers and other people who live with or care for high-risk individuals to keep from spreading the flu. Children younger than six months are at high risk of serious flu illness but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for infants should be vaccinated. Flu vaccine is available through your local healthcare provider or can be found through the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder.

Additionally, residents are advised to take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with the flu virus. Learn more about CDC’s recommendations about “Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work & School.”

Health Officials at the Suffolk County Department of Health Services receive regular updates from state and federal officials about issues concerning seasonal influenza.

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