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January 15, 2013 > Influenza Reaches Epidemic Proportions

Influenza Reaches Epidemic Proportions

Washington Hospital Doctor Urges Residents to Get a Flu Shot

Influenza has officially reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last week. Commonly known as the flu, the contagious disease has become widespread weeks earlier than normal in all but three states, one of which is California.

"We are typically six to eight weeks behind the East Coast, so I would say the worst is yet to come," said Dr. Dianne Martin, a member of the Washington Hospital medical staff who specializes in internal medicine and infectious disease. "Because we are behind the East Coast, there is still time to get your flu shot. A flu vaccination is the single best way to protect against the flu virus."

Washington Hospital is hosting two flu vaccination events this week on the first floor of the Washington West Building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. The first one is scheduled for Thursday, January 17, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. The other one will be held Friday, January 18, from 7 to 9 a.m. The cost is $10 and the vaccine is available to those who are 3 years old or older.

The flu shot contains three seasonal flu viruses that cause your body to build up antibodies capable of fighting off those strains. The viruses are inactivated or killed, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot, according to the CDC.

"It takes time for the antibodies to build up in your body," Dr. Martin added. "So if you haven't had your flu vaccination yet, you should get it as soon as possible. Anyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot."

Flu vaccinations are also available at Washington Urgent Care. The clinic is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and no appointment is needed.

"If you do get sick with the flu and need medical care, it may be best to get treated by your doctor, or go to urgent care if you don't have a regular physician, rather than going to the emergency room," Martin said. "If we catch the flu early on or if it becomes severe, antiviral medications like Tamiflu can be very effective at reducing the severity of the disease."

Flu Can be Deadly

While most people who get the flu can care for themselves at home by getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, and taking over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms, the flu can be deadly. This year's flu strain seems to be more severe, making people sicker, according to Dr. Martin.

Sometime's it's hard for people to know the difference between a common cold and the flu. With a cold, usual symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, and sneezing. Coughs are hacking and productive and it's unusual to have a fever, chills, and body aches. But with the flu, fever is usually present along with chills, headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and fatigue. Flu symptoms can come on fast, often within three to six hours. Coughs are normally dry and unproductive and sore throats are less common.

The flu is a contagious disease that is spread by droplets that enter the air when infected people talk, cough, or sneeze. These droplets can also end up on surfaces like doorknobs and keyboards. People can become infected by touching those surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Martin said it's important to wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading germs and keep hand sanitizers in your home, car, and at work. If you do get sick, be sure to cough in a tissue or in the crook of your arm to avoid spreading the germs with your hands.

"Stay home when you are sick and keep your kids home from school," she added. "Parents sometimes feel pressure to send their kids to school when they are sick or go to work themselves. But it's really best to stay home. You need to rest so you can get well and you don't want to get other people sick."

For more information about the flu, visit www.whhs.com/flu-shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has good information at www.cdc.gov/flu. To find out how to get a flu vaccination, call Washington Hospital's Health Connection hotline at (800) 963-7070. To learn about upcoming Washington Hospital classes and seminars that can help you stay healthy, visit www.whhs.com.

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