With flu cases increasing, town offers tips to avoid it

Unlike last year, the nation has been hit hard by the flu this season and the town is urging Greenwich residents to take care.

“Historically, the number of flu cases begin to increase and peak in January or February,” Greenwich’s Director of Health Caroline Calderone Baisley said. “However, by the end of December, 41 states, including Connecticut, reported widespread flu activity. Although it seemed that many took advantage of getting vaccinated against flu viruses, the mild flu season of last year may have prompted some not to bother. In addition to an unspecified type A virus which has been identified in reported flu cases, this could be another reason why we are seeing so many cases.”

According to the Connecticut State Department of Public Health, the percentage of total emergency department visits attributed to the category “fever/flu syndrome” has been increasing over the last eight weeks to its current high level of about 10% statewide, as opposed to previous seasons’ highs of 8%. In addition, influenza-like illness among outpatient visits continues to increase to its current level of 3.5% as opposed to previous seasons highs of 2%, along with the percentage of statewide hospital admissions attributed to pneumonia.

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. These viruses, which are spread from person to person, infect the nose, throat and lungs. As a result, serious health complications and even death can occur, especially for those people who are at high risk. At this time, Connecticut has received 1,680 influenza reports from all eight counties, with Fairfield and New Haven Counties reporting most of the cases. To date, Greenwich has reported approximately 70 cases, with more expected as the winter progresses.

Many people have a difficult time telling the difference between a cold and the flu. Both are respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. The flu is generally more aggressive with people experiencing a rapid onset of high fever — although not all individuals exhibit a fever — cough, sore throat, runny nose, chills, headache, fatigue and body aches. The common cold is also characterized by sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat and chest congestion. However, fever is usually not associated with a cold and the illness generally does not result in serious health problems.

The noroviruses, commonly known as the “stomach flu” are among contagious viral illnesses that also circulate this time of year. This group of viruses can cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines, leading to vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Other symptoms can include low-grade fever or chills, headache and muscle aches. Noroviruses are very contagious and are the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks. November through January is the peak time of the year for norovirus infections. The duration of the illness is only several days, however, even after people recover they can remain infectious to others for several days.

Pneumonia cases are due to infection mainly by a bacterium or virus. Bacterial pneumonia is a more serious condition. However, both viral and bacterial pneumonia are contagious and can result in a serious health condition or death. Often, especially those who are at high risk for influenza-related complications and/or have an underlying disease or medical condition are at increased risk for getting pneumonia. Pneumonia cases usually require hospitalization. Currently in Connecticut, pneumonia admissions represent about 9.3% of the total statewide hospital admissions as opposed to previous seasons’ highs of 6%.

In order to keep healthy this season, the town has several tips to help residents avoid illness. Suggestions include seeking medical attention early if you develop flu symptoms, washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the bathroom or coming into contact with those who are ill, avoiding food preparation when ill and up to three days after recovery, sanitizing the laundry of those who are ill and avoiding sharing utensils or cups with those who are ill. Further tips include using disinfectants to clean the house, staying home from work or school when ill, drinking plenty of water, taking all medications as prescribed and getting vaccinated yearly against flu viruses.

During flu season, the public is encouraged to call the town Department of Health’s flu line at 203-622-3774 for updates. All vaccines are fee-for-service or may be covered by Medicare Part B insurance. Credit cards and Medicaid will not be accepted. For general information call 203-622-7854.

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