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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Flu season's peak is near, and it's not too late to get vaccinated

  • This year's flu season isn't particularly severe, but there are specific issues that people should be aware of, and some common-sense precautions to keep yourself healthy as the height of the season approaches.

    This year's most prominent flu strain, according to Gail Wechsler at Steuben County Public Health, is H1N1.
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  • This year's flu season isn't particularly severe, but there are specific issues that people should be aware of, and some common-sense precautions to keep yourself healthy as the height of the season approaches.
    This year's most prominent flu strain, according to Gail Wechsler at Steuben County Public Health, is H1N1.
    If that sounds familiar, it's because in 2009, there was a scare over a then-rare strain of virus that some officials said could cause serious illness in young adults and middle-aged people who are typically not considered at significant health risk from the flu.
    It was considered a public health problem then because that season's vaccine wasn't designed to protect against that strain, Wechsler said.
    That's not the case this year.
    "It's less of a concern because it is covered in the vaccine," she said.
    Vaccines for the flu have to be changed each year because different strains of the virus become prominent or new strains appear, said Sarah Boyle, RPA-C, at Guthrie Health's Centerway clinic. Small changes in the protein structures that coat the microscopic organisms can make a person immunized against one strain vulnerable to another.
    Boyle said the number of people seeking medical care for flu has been somewhat fewer this year than last year, in her experience.
    However, healthy adults could still be at greater risk this year because of H1N1.
    Onondaga County officials recently reported two deaths from flu this season. The victims weren't young children or the elderly – they were middle-aged adults, although the county's health commissioner said both had other health problems that made them more vulnerable.
    Wechsler said it's still not too late to get a flu vaccine. The peak of the flu season is typically mid-to-late January through February, but she said it can continue through April and even into May.
    Boyle echoed that.
    "It's certainly not too late" to get vaccinated, she said.
    Boyle also made it very clear that there's no risk of getting the flu from the vaccine.
    "It's scientifically impossible," she said.
    And despite this year's particular strain, the most vulnerable populations remain the very young and very old.
    "Most healthy adults will be really sick for a week and then they'll recover," she said.
    She said the complication that most often takes the flu from an annoyance to a life-threatening illness is pneumonia.
    Boyle said it's important for people to remember that vaccination doesn't just protect the person getting the shot, but other people they come in contact with.
    Parents of young children, in particular, should remember to get the vaccine to protect those too young to receive it, she said.
    Boyle said the key signs of flu are high fever, body aches and a dry cough.
    Page 2 of 2 - The fever in particular is an important way of distinguishing the flu from a winter cold, she said.
    For those who think they might have the virus, the prescription medicine Tamiflu can be effective in controlling symptoms, but only if it's administered in the first few days.
    But the best way to deal with the flu is not to get infected.
    Boyle said key ways to prevent spreading the flu are covering your mouth if you have a cough and washing your hands frequently. Those who believe, or know, they have the virus or have the virus might also consider wearing a surgical-type mask if they're going out in public, though she admitted that was unlikely to catch on.
    Boyle said another thing to keep in mind is that children are particularly good at spreading the flu – they can stay contagious for weeks after they're infected.
    Perhaps most important: Don't go to work if you're sick. People who continue to trudge in to work every morning with the flu are just increasing the chance of spreading the virus.

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