Influenza is widespread

MAYVILLE – Influenza activity continues to increase in Chautauqua County just as it is throughout the state and nation.

“High levels of influenza-like-illness are widespread according to the Center for Disease Control’s latest FluView report,” said Christine Schuyler, County Public Health Director. “Reports of influenza-like-illness are nearing what have been peak levels during moderately severe seasons.”

Influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older and anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now. It’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medication if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Flu vaccinations are available at your primary care doctor’s office, many local pharmacies or the Chautauqua County Health Department (call 1-866-604-6789).

So far this season, 91 percent of the influenza viruses that have been analyzed at CDC are like the viruses included in the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine. The match between the vaccine virus and circulating viruses is one factor that impacts how well the vaccine works. But Schuyler cautions that other factors are involved.

“Influenza vaccination is the first line of defense against the influenza illness. While vaccination offers the best protection we have against influenza, it’s still possible that some people may become ill despite being vaccinated but their illness will be much milder,” she said. “Health care providers and the public should remember that influenza antiviral medications are a second line of defense against influenza.”

The Chautauqua County Department of Health reminds everyone of important measures to take to reduce their chances of getting and spreading the flu and other infectious respiratory illnesses:

Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your elbow, not your hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Wash your hands often with soap and water especially after blowing your nose or coughing, using the bathroom, before and after eating and after being in contact with someone who is ill. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you aren’t near a sink.

Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Stay home when you are sick

While the timing of influenza seasons is impossible to predict, based on past experience it’s likely that flu activity will continue for some time. During the past 10 influenza seasons, influenza-like-illness remained at or above baseline for an average of 12 consecutive weeks, with a range of 1 week in the 2011-2012 flu season to 16 weeks in the 2005-2006 season. During the H1N1 Influenza pandemic, the proportion of visits to doctors for influenza-like-illness remained above the national baseline for 19 consecutive weeks.

One factor that may indicate increased severity this season is that the main type of influenza virus circulating is influenza A (H3N2) viruses, which accounts for about 76 percent of the viruses reported. Schuyler explains, “typically ‘H3N2 seasons’ have been more severe with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, but we will have to see how this season plays out.”

For more information on influenza vaccination, illness and reducing your risk of contracting the flu, visit www.cdc.gov or contact the Chautauqua County Department of Health at 1-866-604-6789.