Influenza activity has become widespread across most of the United States, including Tennessee, with intense activity in some regions of the state and more flu cases overall than in recent years, according to state officials.
The Tennessee Department of Health is urging all residents who have not yet received a flu vaccine to get one now to help protect vulnerable people around them, their families and themselves from the flu virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that people who have had this year’s vaccine are about 60 percent less likely to have to visit a medical provider for treatment of influenza illness than unvaccinated people.
“We expect several more weeks of influenza activity in Tennessee, so we want everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to do so now,” said Dr. John Dreyzehner, commissioner of the state Health Department. “People who are still unvaccinated are at the most risk of getting sick and spreading the virus to others. At this point, some vaccine providers may have exhausted their supplies, so those who still need flu vaccine may need to call more than one provider to locate it.”
Dreyzehner and Gov. Bill Haslam have both received their annual flu vaccinations and are also advising all Tennesseans to get vaccinated against the flu.
For those who do fall ill with the flu, treatment with antiviral medication may help. Antiviral medications can reduce the length and severity of illness when started early, ideally within 48 hours of the onset of illness.
People at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu, such as young children, pregnant women, people older than 65 and those with chronic health conditions, should contact their health care providers to learn if antiviral medication or other treatment is recommended.
Antiviral treatment initiated as soon as possible is especially important for those in high-risk groups and for people who are very sick with influenza, such as those requiring hospitalization.
“Classic symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, sore throat and cough," said Dr. Kelly Moore, medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. "Anyone at high risk of serious illness who thinks they may have the flu should contact their healthcare provider promptly to determine if treatment with an antiviral medication could help them.
"The vaccine is our best protection, but it is important to know that treatment may help prevent some serious complications if you do get sick.”
People who are sick should stay home to recover to prevent spreading illness to coworkers and others.
Health Department officials recommend not returning to work or school until 24 hours after a fever goes away in order to minimize the chances of spreading the flu to others.
It’s also important to practice good health habits to reduce the likelihood of spreading the flu to other people.
Good health habits include frequent hand washing with soapy water, keeping hands away from your face, getting plenty of rest, eating a healthful diet, and covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue.
To find a flu vaccine providers, visit the Department of Health website.