Facing the flu

Flu season is not yet in full swing – and there are still ways to keep it away this year.

Kari Prescott, director of the Webster County Health Department said cases of the flu have been reported within the county but a set number of cases so far is unknown.

“A specific count isn’t always kept, but once a case is confirmed in your county and detected in your area it is assumed that it is there,” said Prescott.

In Iowa Public Health Planning Region 1, which includes Webster County, reports of flu-like illness stands at 22 percent as of Dec. 31, 2013.

“That is considered moderate activity for Central Iowa, Prescott said. “That means 22 percent of cases presented at doctor’s offices are flu.”

Statewide, 14 percent of flu-like illnesses treated among patients in medical facilities have been confirmed as actual influenza.

To prevent the flu, Prescott recommends everyone 6 months old and older get a flu shot.

‘The vaccination is one of the best defenses against the flu,” said Prescott.

Symptoms of the flu most commonly include fever, headache, body aches and fatigue. Some strains of influenza may also include respiratory symptoms.

Other symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting and upset stomach are commonly associated with the stomach flu, which Prescott said is most often not a true form of flu

“Stomach flu is often not a flu,” she said. “The flu shot doesn’t cover those symptoms. Most often vomiting and stomach issues are caused by something ingested or viral.

Vaccinations given at the health department are a trivalent vaccine that covers the three most common forms of flu: Influenza B, H1N1 and H3N2.

A common sense approach is often the best way to avoid catching or spreading illness anytime of year, Prescott said.

“Stay home when you don’t feel well or have a fever, cover your coughs and wash your hands,” she said. “Try to keep your hands away from your face. Not everyone realizes that is usually where illness begins, with the nasal cavity.”

Vaccinations are available through the Webster County Health Department, 723 First Ave. S., Monday through Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. or by calling the Health Department at 573-4107 to schedule an appointment. Walk-in clinics will also be held throughout the season. Shots are available for a $20 fee. Health insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid are also accepted.