Flu taking its toll in schools and workplace

If you, or someone you know, has been sick with influenza in the past weeks, it?s not surprising. The Kansas Department of Health and Education reports ?widespread? influenza activity in the state. For an outbreak to be considered widespread, at least half of the state?s regions must report an outbreak in influenza, or influenza-like symptoms.

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness, and its symptoms include sudden onset of fever, sore throat, muscle aches and non-productive cough. Influenza is not the same as the stomach flu.

Six of the seven Kansas regions are reporting widespread influenza cases. Missouri, Maine, Utah and Oregon are the only states escaping the outbreak.

Between the Hillsboro and Marion school districts, Hillsboro High School has been hit the hardest, with more than 40 students absent Feb. 18 and 19.

Hillsboro Elementary School reported a peak of 20 absent students, and Hillsboro Middle School with 15 students gone Feb. 18.

Marion High School has had ?a few? students absent, while the middle school reported a peak of 12 students. Marion Elementary School said about 10 percent of the student population has been sick enough to stay home.

According to Rebecca Green, a physician?s assistant at Preferred Medical Associates Family Practice Clinic in Hillsboro, said the number of influenza cases the clinic has seen in the past three weeks are ?too numerous to count? and have been reported in ?epidemic proportions.?

Between two-thirds and three-fourths of the clinic?s patients have been cases of influenza.

?In the 12 years I?ve been in practice, this is the worst year for influenza,? Green said.

She said most of the cases have been in individuals who didn?t get the flu shot. But in a few of the cases, the shot had been previously administered.

Diedre Serene, Marion County Health Department administrator and school nurse for USD 410, said the flu shot is covering 40 percent of the influenza strains. Despite the percentage being lower this year, she still encourages people to get the shot.

?Some of the influenza that is going around could have probably been prevented by the flu shot,? she said. ?Or, the flu shot, if it hasn?t prevented them from getting it, they should get it a lot less.?

To receive the flu shot, individuals should be fever-free for 24 hours prior to administration.

?We like you to be healthy when you?re getting the flu shot,? Serene said. ?The reason for that is partially because if your immune system is down, you may not build up the antibodies, and so the flu shot may not be as helpful.?

In addition to the shot, other precautions can be taken to help avoid the flu, including proper handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when sick.

?I would encourage anybody to stay home until they?re fever-free for 24-hours,? Serene said.

That doesn?t mean taking a fever-reducing medication to get rid of the fever in order to go back to work or school.

?Tylenol or Motrin just brings the fever down, but it doesn?t do anything for the virus,? Serene said. ?So you still are possibly contagious.?

A normal temperature is considered to be 98.6 degrees. But Serene said a good rule of thumb is to stay home when a temperature is 100 degrees or higher.

If you get influenza, there aren?t medications to treat the virus, Serene said. But a medication called Tamiflu, if taken within 48-hours of the onset of symptoms, can reduce the effects of the virus.

?Tamiflu won?t cure the flu, but it?s supposed to help make the symptoms a little bit less,? she said.

Eric Driggers, pharmacist at Greenhaw Pharmacy in Hills?boro, said the medication runs in the $80 range without insurance. If you don?t want to pay for the medication, or have had symptoms for more than 48-hours, the best option is to let the virus run its course.

?I would recommend people get plenty of rest,? Serene said. ?I know that?s hard, especially for adults who depend on their income. But they need plenty of rest, proper nutrition and plenty of fluids.

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