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It's not too late to get your flu shot

Late last month, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported widespread influenza activity across the state. Locally, the number of active cases in Lawrence and throughout Douglas County is also on the rise.

“It’s not too late to still get your flu shot,” said Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, an infectious disease specialist with Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the Internal Medicine Group. “This year’s vaccine appears to be a very good match to the viruses circulating throughout the community and state.”

The virus is passed from person to person primarily through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze. These organisms can survive for several minutes or longer on nonporous surfaces such as door handles.

Aside from vaccination against the flu, the best strategies for protecting yourself from upper respiratory infections include:

• Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

• Do not touch your eyes or nose right after touching a possibly contaminated surface.

• Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow rather than into your hand.

Symptoms of influenza include fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration. Influenza may also worsen other chronic conditions.

“One of the best things not to do is to show up to work or school when you’re ill,” Schrimsher said. “You’re contaminating others with the same bug and spreading the infection.”

Her best advice is “Stay home, get plenty of rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration.”

Schrimsher reminds patients that influenza is a viral infection, not bacterial; therefore, it will not respond to antibiotics. Most cases respond to self-help measures, and the illness will pass on its own.

In specific cases, antiviral medications may be necessary, but they must be taken within the first 48 hours of illness to be effective. These medications may lessen the duration of the illness and possibly reduce symptoms, but they do not kill the virus.

For more information about influenza, including the latest state and national statistics, visit kdheks.gov/flu.

— Amy Northrop is physician liaison manager at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at amy.northrop@lmh.org.

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