By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
While this flu season is projected to be the worst in nearly a decade, there are plenty of ways to combat or possibly even avoid the awful illness.
“It has been one of the worst years in the surrounding nation,” Mercy Medical Center Infection Preventionist Jeff Sander Welzien said. “We haven’t seen as much locally, but we definitely anticipate a higher rate.”
Across the nation numbers have doubled for those afflicted with the seasonal illness, but in Clinton County there have only been a few confirmed cases so far. This is not surprising to local officials as it is still early in the season.
“The flu is hitting a lot earlier this year,” Genesis VNA Community Health Manager Michele Cullen said. “Historically the majority of the cases occur between the end of January and beginning of March. The last time I remember the flu hitting this hard this early was about eight years ago.” One of the most effective ways to fight the flu is by getting a flu shot. Genesis Health System, the Genesis Health Services Foundation and Clinton County Visiting Nursing Foundation work together each year to provide free flu shots to students in Clinton County. This year they protected 45 percent of the students in the county from the flu.
“It really does help the numbers,” Cullen said. “Kids come into contact with so many people whether it be their baby sibling or their elderly grandparents.”
Like any other illness, the flu affects elderly and babies the most with serious consequences. Genesis VNA also offers flu clinics at many senior living complexes.
Another key demographic is health care workers who work directly with these groups and others who already have low immunity.
“We’ve increased our influenza vaccine rate and instituted policies to make sure workers are getting the flu shot,” Sander Welzien said. “About half of our employees have been vaccinated.”
Even those who have been vaccinated should still be wary of the symptoms, especially with the intense flu season this year.
While it is the best preventative measure to take, it is not a guarantee.
“If you get the shot, it may not totally prevent it,” Cullen said. “You may still get some of the symptoms, but it’s still the best thing you can do.”
Other ways to combat the flu include washing your hands, covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids.
The shot still remains the strongest line of defense against the common bug.
In some parts of the nation the season may be in full swing, but the flu shot is still offered months into the new year.
“It’s not too late,” Cullen said. “Even though the flu has started there is still time and flu shots are offered into February.”