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Have the flu? Stay home.

BY SHARON BARDONNER - sbardonner@ftimes.com

Public Health Officer Stephen Tharp, M.D., issued an alert Friday for people to take precautions to avoid catching the influenza virus that appears to be invading Clinton County. 

“Based on the reports of more absenteeism from the county schools, it appears the flu is taking hold,” he said.

If you haven’t received a flu shot yet, do so as soon as you can, Tharp advised. “There are different versions, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate.”

The flu is an upper respiratory disease, he explained, and the virus is transmitted from one person to another, not caught from other species. “The most efficient way it is transmitted is by somone coughing and sneezing and putting the virus into the air where someone else inhales it,” he said. 

To avoid infecting others, if you have been diagnosed wth the flu or have symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and coughing, stay home. If you are around people whom you reasonably suspect of having the flu, stay as far away as possible, consider wearing a mask and be diligent about your hand hygiene, Tharp suggested.

Masks are most effective, however, if they’re worn by those who have the flu. Although the microscopic flu virus can make it through a paper surgical mask, any droplets expelled can be captured.

“If you have the flu, it is best not to be in public places where you can spread it. Stay home,” he emphasized.

The bug can be shared by touch, too, so people should wash their hands frequently. “Using soap and water is best, but using hand sanitizer can help,” he said.

Cleaning surfaces in public places can also limit contagion, so Tharp recommending mixing bleach with water and wiping down work counters, desktops and other areas where people frequent. “A 10 percent bleach solution will kill everything,” he noted. “It will bleach your clothes, too, so you want to be careful. Also, use it only in a well-ventilated area - not in a closed space - and don’t inhale it.

Finally, if you are sick, it is best to stay at home until you are well. Wait until the fever has been gone for 24 hours and the coughing and sneezing have ceased before returning to work or school.

Temperatures in those diagnosed are often about 101 degrees, he said, but someone can be infected without registering such a high fever. Other symptoms include severe aches and pains and feeling sick all of a sudden.

“People feel like a Mack truck ran over them,” he said. 

See a medical professional if you have any difficulty breathing, said Tharp, who added there is a treatment that does help. Tamiflu, which has the generic name of oseltamivir, has been demonstrated to be effective but it works best if treatment is begun within 48 hours of the onset of the illness.

To do your part to curtail this public health problem, avoid crowds, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and stay home if you’re ill, he said.