High levels of flu reported across Nebraska

*This map indicates geographic spread and does not measure the severity of influenza activity. (SOURCE: CDC)
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The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is reporting high levels of flu across the state, which is driving an increase in doctor visits, flu-related hospitalizations and outbreaks in schools and long-term care facilities.

“Flu is taking on a life of its own and we’re seeing surprisingly high numbers of cases for this time of year,” said Dr. Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for DHHS. “If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine yet, there is a sense of urgency so don’t wait any longer.”

DHHS says the flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu, which can make any of us sick and can be a life threatening illness for some people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older every year.

Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications, and it’s extremely important they receive vaccine:
• Young children
• Adults 65 years of age or older
• Pregnant women
• People with chronic lung disease (like asthma and COPD), diabetes (type 1 and 2), heart disease, neurologic conditions and certain other long-term health conditions
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
Vaccination can reduce flu-related illnesses, visits to the doctor, missed work and school and flu-related hospitalizations. Flu vaccine is safe, effective and rigorously tested. The most common reaction people may experience from a flu shot is soreness and redness at the injection site. After vaccination, it takes about two weeks for the body to build immunity.

People should promptly seek medical care if they have flu-like symptoms which can include some or all of these symptoms:
• Fever or chills
• Cough
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches
• Headaches
• Tiredness
• Some people may have vomiting or diarrhea. This is more common in children than adults.

DHHS says antiviral drugs are the best way to treat flu so take them if your doctor prescribes them. Early treatment with antivirals can lessen symptoms, shorten the amount of time you are sick, reduce the risk of serious flu complications, and potentially decrease additional spread of the virus.

DHHS says high levels of flu also underscore the importance of non-vaccine approaches to help prevent flu:
• Wash your hands often
• Avoid contact with people who are sick
• Stay home from school, work, family gatherings and social functions if you’re sick
• Cover your mouth and nose when you cough with a tissue or sleeve, not your hands
• Eat healthy and get plenty of rest
• Don’t smoke

DHHS started its statewide flu surveillance for the season in October. The Department uses multiple public health surveillance systems to track flu viruses, including physicians who report the number of people with flu-like illness weekly, lab tests, school surveillance, hospital data, emergency department data and death reporting. Flu surveillance shows where the flu is and how fast it's spreading across Nebraska.

There are many myths that keep some people from getting the shot. One being the false idea that the shot gives you the flu a Hastings pharmacists help make sense of where those ideas came from.

“Sometimes people have a slight fever and things like that afterwards. But that's just your body kind of building those antibodies and building that protection,” Hastings Walgreens Pharmacy Manager Sarah Hajek said.

There is also a population that cannot have the shot, and those who can will be protecting them by not spreading the virus.

“It's not just you that you're protecting. You're protecting everyone around you. Some people aren't able to get a flu shot if they're immunocompromised, if they're less than six months old, especially infants,” Hajek said.

Some people on social media say there are chemicals in the shot they don't want in their bodies. But Hajek said that idea comes from the preservatives in the vaccine to keep it sterile. But now many pharmacies have moved away from preservatives and have single use vaccines instead of a large bottle of the solution.