Flu prevalence and prevention

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By Caitlin Taylor
The Mason Times

As of Feb. 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the influenza virus remained widespread across the country, keeping consistent with its prevalence during the early winter months. This consistency, according to Kristin Panwas, assistant department manager at Mason Urgent Care, is reflected in Mason.

“We did see an increased number of flu cases,” Panwas said. “Flu season is so bad that we even ran out of Tamiflu (an antibiotic).”

Despite the flu’s frequency, Panwas has found that there wasn’t as much traffic for flu vaccinations through Mason Urgent Care in February, especially in comparison to late-September and early-October vaccinations – the beginning of flu season.

At urgent care as well as surrounding pharmacies like Rite Aid on North Cedar Street, medical professionals vaccinate patients against influenzas A and B. This, however, does not protect them from different strains of the virus.

“Different strains do come up,” Panwas said. “The CDC is in charge of monitoring these different strains.”

Melissa Halstead, office assistant at Steele Elementary School in Mason, also said that she has experienced several flu cases since the beginning of the year, though all of Steele’s students are up-to-date on their vaccines.

“We are averaging 30 to 40 absences a day,” she said.

With that many absences daily, Steele is losing around 6 to 8 percent of its students on a regular basis.

“(Lack of) hand washing is the major reason for sickness,” Halstead said. “A lot of our materials are shared. For example, the same eight iPods will go to several different classrooms, and about 40 students will end up touching the same thing by the end of the day.”

While Halstead said that the school is limited in what it can do to prevent sickness, she said that the staff is committed to promoting personal hygiene. Each teacher cleans his or her room with antibacterial wipes, passes around hand sanitizer and encourages hand washing.

“Above all, we highly recommend to parents that if your child has a fever, they need to be home for at least 24 hours before they return to school,” Halstead said. “The same with throwing up, too.”

Panwas, Mason Urgent Care’s assistant department manager, agreed that staying home if you are showing symptoms of influenza is not only the best way to keep the virus from spreading, but the quickest way to get healthy. Symptoms would include any combination of fever, body aches, nausea, vomiting, sinus drainage, upper respiratory symptoms, headaches or fatigue, she said.

“Hand washing is the biggest thing you can do (to prevent the flu),” Panwas said. “Also increasing fluids, resting, taking medicine for body aches and fevers, coughing and sneezing into the crook of your arm and staying home.”

For more information on signs, symptoms and prevention of the flu virus, visit the CDC website.

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