Tips to avoid the flu:
- Get vaccinated.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
With 95 cases of influenza seen at Lawrence Memorial Hospital alone over the last 12 days, it's safe to say the flu bug has arrived in Lawrence — and this time, it's biting harder than usual.
Physician Sabrina Prewett, chief of emergency medicine at LMH, said the flu bug’s prevalence fluctuated each year, but this flu season it was comparatively higher.
“Every five or six years the virulence is higher,” Prewett said, “and this year seems to be coming on very rapidly and spreading more rapidly.”
Prewett said the increase in the flu's prevalence has caused officials to tighten the hospital’s visitation guidelines. LMH visitors who have not received a flu shot are asked to wear a mask and wash their hands while at the hospital — and those who are exhibiting flu symptoms are encouraged to just stay home.
“The trick is to stay away from people who are coughing or have fevers,” Prewett said. “And if you’re sick, stay at home. Don’t share it with others.”
Flu symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough and muscle aches. If you think you have the flu, Prewett said, it is best to go to your physician, rather than expose others in the emergency room.
“The diagnosis should not happen here,” Prewett said. “Unless you are acutely ill, meaning you cannot keep fluids down, have difficulty breathing or pass out, you need to be seen by a family doctor in a clinic.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported influenza or pneumonia contributed to or caused 1,444 deaths in Kansas during the 2012-2013 influenza season.
Two Kansans have died already from causes linked to the flu during the 2013-2014 influenza season, which began in October.
Those most at risk for serious flu complications like pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and dehydration include young children, people with certain health conditions and older individuals.
Though the flu vaccine takes two weeks to reach its full benefit, Prewett said, it's not too late to vaccinate.
“Even if you are exposed to the virus within that first two weeks, the shot can decrease the intensity of symptoms,” Prewett said. “Go get vaccinated if you haven’t, because (the flu) will probably linger into March.”
The flu shot is available at area pharmacies, physician practices and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. Flu shots are $25 for children 6 months to 3 years old and $30 for those 3 years and older at the Health Department, 200 Maine St., and are available on a walk-in basis during clinic hours.