PLATTSBURGH — Health-care professionals are stressing the basics to combat a local increase in influenza and gastrointestinal diseases this season.
Simple steps, like washing hands regularly and avoiding contact with others when sick, can go a long way to prevent the spread of such infectious diseases as the flu and the stomach bug.
TEAM ON WATCH
“With our Communicable Disease Surveillance Team, we can see what is happening with infectious disease throughout the community,” said Laurie Williams, coordinator of health education for the Clinton County Health Department.
“With that information, we can turn around and notify the public of what we’re seeing and what actions people can do to reduce the risk.”
MANY LOCAL CASES
Influenza continues to be a statewide concern and has been categorized as widespread across New York state.
Laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu were reported in all 57 counties, with 3,974 cases confirmed during the week of Dec. 22, an increase of 42 percent over the preceding week.
“We are seeing a significant number of cases,” said Karen Plotas-McGrath, a public-health nurse who works on the Surveillance Team for the Health Department. “The peak of the flu outbreak hit during (school) vacation.”
CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh has also seen an early arrival to the flu season.
“We see the flu every year, but this year it is much earlier than we usually see it,” said Erica Wood, manager of the Infection Control Unit at CVPH.
“In December of last year, we had only two patients who tested positive for flu. This year, we had 92 cases in December.”
Most of those cases have come through the hospital’s Emergency Department, but only a handful had to be admitted with severe complications, she added.
There seems to be little significance of age with this year’s flu. Wood has seen patients from ages 1 to 91 and every age level in between.
The No. 1 measure against flu continues to be vaccination, and officials say it is not too late to receive a flu shot for this season.
“This year’s vaccine is right on target,” Williams said of the vaccine’s ability to combat the current strains of influenza.
People who receive the flu shot may still fall ill if they come into contact with the virus, but their symptoms will not be as severe as they would be without the shot, she added.
With gastrointestinal illness, a person will experience vomiting and diarrhea, but the symptoms will last only a few days, Plotas-McGrath noted.
Flu symptoms will include fever, coughs and body aches that can last for a week or longer.
Washing hands regularly can help prevent the spread of both diseases. Also, people should cough into their sleeve and not into their hands. When using tissues, people should dispose of them properly.
If an illness lasts for more than a couple of days, people should see their primary-care physician, who can determine the severity of the disease and prescribe a proper treatment plan for that illness, health officials say.
“If you’re going into the doctor’s office or to the ER, wear a mask,” Wood said.
“If your kids have symptoms, keep them home.”
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STOP THE SPREAD
Tips to preventing the spread of infectious disease:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper arm, not your hands.
- Put your used tissues in a wastebasket.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Stay home while ill; if you must go into the public, wear a surgical mask.