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Wyoming influenza reports starting to pick up

With Wyoming flu activity reports starting to pick up, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is reminding residents how to help avoid becoming ill with influenza or spreading the virus.

Reggie McClinton, epidemiologist with WDH, said while overall flu activity is low, he is seeing reports indicate noticeable increases in the state’s northeastern and central areas. “National reports are starting to show more illness as well,” he said.

“Our last flu season was highly severe with at least 27 flu-related deaths, a number much higher than what is typically reported in Wyoming,” McClinton said.

Influenza is a contagious, respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said influenza should never be overlooked or accepted as a minor problem because it is familiar. “We see serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths due to flu every season,” she said.

“Nearly everyone 6 months or older should get a seasonal flu vaccine. Flu shots are safe and the most important action people can take to help prevent getting ill with influenza and passing it on to others,” Harrist said. “In addition to helping you avoid the flu in the first place, vaccines can also help make illnesses less severe for those who do still get sick.”

Flu shots remain available in many locations such as public health nursing offices, retail stores and medical clinics. “Because it takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection you may still become ill if you’re exposed to a flu virus in the meantime,” Harrist said. “The takeaway message is to get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.”

Common-sense measures can also help slow or prevent influenza’s spread. “Staying home from work, school, daycare and errands when you are ill is important. Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve or a tissue when you sneeze and cough and frequently washing your hands are also effective,” Harrist said.

Doctors may recommend prescription antiviral medications to help treat influenza. These medications may be especially helpful for persons at higher risk for flu complications such as young children, older adults, persons with chronic medical conditions, persons with challenged immune systems, pregnant women, persons less than 19 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy for other conditions, those who are extremely overweight, and residents of nursing homes or other chronic-care facilities.

“For antiviral medications to be a good option, it is important to seek medical care quickly once you become ill,” Harrist said.