TN Health Dept. Says to Beware, Reports of Flu Increasing

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The Tennessee Department of Health is seeing increased reports of seasonal influenza and other respiratory illnesses across the state. As flu season continues, TDH reminds Tennesseans about measures to take to slow the spread of flu in our communities.

"Our main message is this: Get a flu vaccine now if you haven't had it yet," said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. "Even in years where the vaccine is less effective, it is still the best way to protect ourselves and vulnerable people around us from the flu.

"Flu and flu-like illnesses are widespread in Tennessee and the entire continental U.S. right now, and we don't know if it will get worse in the coming weeks or how long it will be this way," Dreyzehner continued. "I want to thank the nearly 50 percent of people in an average year who have been vaccinated, but still remind everyone to do their best to wash their hands, keep fingers away from their faces and if you feel a flu-like illness coming on, call your health care provider early for advice."

TDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a yearly flu vaccine for everyone aged six months and older. It is not too late to benefit from a flu shot this season. TDH reminds the public that people can be sick with the flu and transmit it to others up to 24 hours before they feel ill.

TDH strongly encourages taking additional precautions to prevent infection with the flu, including avoiding contact with the well if you are sick and the sick if you are well. People who are sick are asked to stay home for at least 24 hours after their symptoms have resolved to protect others and prevent spreading the disease. This includes avoiding going to work, school and other public places while ill, and limiting visits to people in nursing homes or hospitals.

"Flu seasons are hard to predict, and it's too early to tell if we've made it past the peak of this flu season in Tennessee," said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. "Flu virus is highly contagious, so it's very important for people who are sick to stay home and make every effort to avoid contact with others to help prevent further spread of the illness." People who are sick or have sick people in their households, such as small children, should be particularly careful when considering visits to friends or loved ones in hospitals, long-term care facilities and other places where sick and vulnerable people live or receive care. Consider phone calls or technology such as video chats instead to prevent the spread of germs in these settings, and respect any limits on visitation policies facilities may implement during flu season.

Groups including infants, the elderly and people with certain medical conditions are at highest risk of getting severe complications from the flu. People in these groups should talk with a health care provider if they suspect infection with the flu and should begin antiviral medications if recommended by their provider as soon as possible. However, few people with the flu or other respiratory illnesses need to go to an emergency room. TDH recommends people who are not severely ill call their health care provider first to talk about whether they need to be seen, and if so, where would be most appropriate place to go for evaluation.

People at high risk of serious flu complications include:

*Young children, especially those under two years of age
*Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum
*People with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or lung disease
*People with heart disease
*People aged 65 years and older
*People with kidney or liver disorders
*People with weakened immune systems due to disease or medication, such as those with HIV/AIDS or cancer
*Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

"Staying home and calling your health care provider is usually the right move," said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. "Most people who get the flu know pretty quickly. It feels different, coming on faster and a lot worse in terms of aches, weakness and fever than a typical winter cold. Most people don't need to go to an emergency room, and you may not need to be seen by a provider, but getting those antivirals started as soon as possible can make the illness much shorter and less severe including for people who have been vaccinated. Antivirals are particularly important, potentially lifesaving, for higher-risk people."

Follow these additional tips to protect your family and others from the flu:

*Always using "respiratory etiquette" by coughing into your elbow or a tissue instead of your hands
*Wash hands frequently with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub
*Routine cleaning and disinfection in the home and workplace are important to reduce flu risks

For more information on preventing seasonal flu, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/prevention.htm.

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