With the number of flu cases rising in Monroe County, health officials are urging residents to take precautions to prevent further spreading of the virus.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase in visits! Our walk-in clinic is staying busy,” said Heather Bolinger, the clinical services officer for Chota Community Health Services. “We’re seeing a lot of the Flu A strain right now. We’ve only seen a few Flu B cases.”

Chota Community Health Services has clinics located in Madisonville, Tellico Plains, Vonore and the Monroe County Schools, seeing a wide range of Monroe County patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu has now been upgraded to “widespread” in Tennessee. With clinics like Chota Community Health Services seeing a steady rise of cases, this flu season could be a rough one.

“While seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter,” said Bolinger. “The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.”

Is it flu or something else?

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Flu viruses are thought to be spread mainly from person to person through droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Flu viruses can also spread when people touch something with the flu virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose.

Unlike a cold or upper respiratory infection, the flu usually comes on suddenly. Flu symptoms can include a fever, chills, cough, sour throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. Not everyone with the flu, however, will have a fever.

According to the CDC, people with the flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. To avoid this, health officials recommend that people stay away from sick people and sick people should stay home.

The CDC says that most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children can sometimes pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms normally start anywhere from one to four days after the virus enters the body.

“If you are sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities,” said Bolinger. “Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.”

Bolinger said in addition to the flu, Chota is also seeing a lot of upper respiratory viruses.

“We often have patients who want an antibiotic prescribed to ‘help me get over this quicker.’ But, antibiotics don’t help with viruses,” she explained.

Bolinger said it’s important to remember are that antibiotics are life-saving drugs.

“Using antibiotics wisely is the best way to preserve their strength for future bacterial illnesses,” she said. “Because antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, if you have a viral infection like a cold, you should instead talk to a medical provider or pharmacist about symptom relief. This could include over-the-counter medications, a humidifier or warm liquids.”

She also noted that green-colored mucus is not a sign that an antibiotic is needed.

“As the body’s immune system fights off an infection, mucus can change color,” said Bolinger. “This is normal.”

Preventive action

Bolinger said because a person could pass the flu on to someone else before they even realize they are sick, it is very important to take preventative precautions to help ward off the flu.

Health officials recommend the following preventative precautions:

  • First and foremost, get a flu shot;
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for about 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub;
  • Always cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue;
  • Avoid close contact with sick people;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as germs can spread this way;
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

“And, stay home when you’re sick,” advised Bolinger. “That’s the biggest thing. You want to limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them!”

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu.

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