By LISA M. REED
KINGSFORD - Winter sicknesses have moved into spring as influenza and cold viruses are continuing to circulate.
Ruth Holmes, registered nurse at the Dickinson-Iron Health Department, administers a flu shot to a patient.
Dr. Teresa Frankevich, medical director of the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, said influenza cases are declining in Michigan and locally, but in the last few weeks there have been added confirmed cases of influenza.
"We can all agree that it has been a long winter and we look forward to spring," Dr. Frankevich said. "Viruses tend to spread when people are indoors together; another reason to look forward to warmer weather."
So it's still important to follow good prevention.
Frankevich said friends and family members may have runny noses and coughs, but at this point these symptoms are more likely due to one of the "cold" viruses that circulate during the fall and winter months.
"And with more than 200 different types of cold viruses, it is very possible to get sick more than once per season," she said.
Although people sometimes find it hard to tell if they have a routine cold or if they have true influenza, there are usually some differences.
Influenza typically causes more severe symptoms with fever, chills, cough, headache and an overall "I think I've been hit by a bus" feeling that usually lasts for five to seven days, and sometimes longer.
Although sometimes casually referred to the viral vomiting and diarrhea that goes around as "flu", it is important to know that this is not due to the same virus that causes seasonal flu. And the seasonal flu shot does not protect you from "stomach flu."
Joyce Ziegler, R.N. and community health services director for the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, said what does help prevent both illnesses though is good hand-washing (particularly before eating and after using the restroom) and staying home when you are sick-to limit spread to others.
"If you do get the seasonal flu, most people may be treated at home with rest, fluids and fever-reducing medication," Ziegler said.
Early in a person's illness (usually within 48 hours of becoming ill), physicians may decide to treat with an anti-viral medication, especially if the individual is at high risk of complications.
Antibiotics are not effective unless the patient develops a bacterial infection such as strep throat, pneumonia or a sinus infection, on top of the flu.
Those in a high-risk group for flu complications (such as infants and young children, seniors, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses), should contact their physician's office for advice.
Anyone else who is concerned about their symptoms, particularly if they are having very high fevers, are unable to take in adequate fluids or are very lethargic, should also contact their provider.
"The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu shot. The health department still has influenza vaccine available if you need to be vaccinated," Ziegler said.
The influenza virus is spread person to person via droplets when infected people cough or sneeze.
The virus can travel from person to person within a few feet of someone coughing or sneezing.
It can also be spread from touching contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs and then rubbing your eyes or touching the moist areas of your nose or mouth.
So, avoiding close contact with people who have the flu, avoiding large crowds during the flu season and practicing good hand washing - particularly before eating or touching your eyes, nose or mouth - can help to reduce your chances of becoming ill.
Lisa M. Reed's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.