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Five things to know about the flu right now

J. H. Osborne • Dec 23, 2017 at 1:14 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Hearing a lot of scary stuff about the flu? Wondering what to do? Talking with the Times News on Friday, Dr. Stephen May, medical director for the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, said these are his top suggestions for what you need to know:

1) Flu is here.

2) Get your flu shot if you possibly can.

3) There are co-circulating viruses besides the flu.

4) If you’re sick, stay at home.

5) Practice appropriate respiratory hygiene.

Earlier this week, local hospitals issued a joint statement restricting visitors due to “drastic increases” in patients testing positive for the flu. That increase was described as matching a regional and national trend.

“It’s still flu,” May said. “There’s nothing more magical about it this year than any other year. This is flu season. It is a little earlier than what we are used to. The predominant strain is A, and particularly the H3N2. It tends to be a little worse on people than the H1N1 or the B virus. The other thing that is newsworthy is the vaccine this year for H3N2 doesn’t seem to be working as well as in past years. And that’s the strain that’s circulating.

“But the short of the story is in the United States it seems to be about 33 percent effective. For the H1N1, it’s 54 percent effective and for B it is 61 percent effective, based on preliminary numbers. We still want people to get vaccinated. It can still provide you protection against the other strains of the flu.”

And getting a vaccine isn’t just about your own health and survival.

“The flu may not kill you or me,” May said. “But it may kill Grandma, it may kill a child, it may kill a pregnant woman, which is a much higher risk for flu — or someone with cancer and getting chemotherapy. So if we can stop the spread by getting the vaccine, then by all means that’s a priority.”

May said the problem is not just flu. Other viruses are also circulating. And the flu vaccine does not protect against those viruses — and antibiotics do not fight them.

“We’re seeing lots of viruses co-circulating,” May said.

So exactly what is “appropriate respiratory hygiene?”

“Keep hands washed, cover coughs or sneezes, don’t touch your eyes or face,” May said. “And we also need to remember isolation practices. If you’re sick, stay home and away from other people.”

It’s Christmas weekend, which typically includes ample opportunity for being in crowds, from shopping to church to family gatherings.

If you aren’t sick, should you avoid going out to protect yourself?

“Going out is OK,” May said. “Just remember to practice respiratory hygiene and remember the 3-foot distance rule. A lot of this is spread by respiratory droplets, and typically they tend not to travel more than 3 feet. So if you keep 3 feet away from anybody when they’re coughing and snorting and snotting, you can decrease your risk. You won’t eliminate it. But it will help.”

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