Health Officials Explain Best Ways to Prevent the Flu - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Health Officials Explain Best Ways to Prevent the Flu

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC/AP) - State health officials say Delaware is seeing nine times as many cases of the flu this year over last year.

The Division of Public Health said in an email Wednesday that there have been 632 lab-confirmed cases of the flu so far this season. Last year at this time, officials say, there were 70 cases.

The agency says there have been four deaths from the flu this season, two in Sussex and one each in Kent and New Castle counties. All four were older adults with underlying medical conditions.

The Delaware Division of Public Health is reminding Delawareans that preventing the flu through vaccination and sanitary precautions is sill the best protection.

Officials say each year a few strains of the flu will circulate. This season so far, DPH has reported influenza A (H3N2) viruses most frequently compared to other strains. Past experience indicates that when this particular strain is more common, there have been more hospitalizations and deaths, especially among those at highest risk of complications from flu infection.

The DPH says most vulnerable are older people, the very young, pregnant women and those who recently gave birth, and people with underlying medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and individuals with weak immune systems.

Flu vaccines are designed to protect against three or four different strains of the disease depending upon the type of vaccine, according to health officials. The CDC reports that Influenza A H3N2 that is among those causing illness in the community is slightly different (mutated) from the original vaccine.

However, vaccination is still a vital weapon even when there is not an exact match between the vaccine and the strain that infects someone, DPH officials say. This is because flu shots will give full protection against two flu strains and even some protection against the mutated strain. As a result, the flu shot will not only prevent the flu but it can also lessen the severity of the illness if someone contracts the virus, authorities say.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following signs suggest severe illness from flu requiring immediate attention and possible hospitalization:

In children

· Fast breathing or trouble breathing

· Bluish skin color

· Not drinking enough fluids

· Not waking up or not interacting

· Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

· Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

· Fever with a rash

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

· Inability to eat

· Trouble breathing

· No tears when crying

· Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In adults

· Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

· Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

· Sudden dizziness

· Confusion

· Severe or persistent vomiting

· Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Some groups are at special risk for complications and individuals in these groups should seek care immediately if they develop symptoms of the flu. These include:

· Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old

· Adults 65 years of age and older

· Pregnant women and women who recently gave birth

· People with underlying medical conditions

Delawareans are encouraged to prevent flu infection by taking the following measures:

· Get the flu vaccine. Anyone age six months and older should get vaccinated for the flu. It is particularly important that anyone who works or lives with children, persons with underlying medical conditions, or seniors, get vaccinated. Vaccinations are offered through physician offices, and many pharmacies and grocery stores.

· Wash hands with soap frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after you cough, sneeze or touch your face.

Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow. Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to six feet. Stay home when sick and do not return to work until 24 hours after a fever is gone. 

For further information on the flu, visit www.flu.delaware.gov or call 800-282-8672.

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