Reports of flu declining, but health officials say, ‘It’s not over yet’

Spring is approaching, but health officials say the flu season will continue for a few more months.

"The flu season runs through April or May - it can be unpredictable. It’s not over yet," said Public Health Branch Director Susan Buckley.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the number of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness decreased for the last reporting period. Still, while flu cases are declining in the east, they are widespread in the west.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Public Health clinic administered more than 800 flu vaccines in January. About 2,000 have been given since October.

"There’s still plenty of vaccine available and we encourage anyone who hasn’t had a shot or the nasal mist to make an appointment at Public Health or at a pharmacy or doctor’s office," Buckley said.

Flu virus is airborne and can spread from person to person up to about 6 feet away. CDC officials say most experts think that flu viruses are spread when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled. Less often, people might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

Flu symptoms can include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and fatique.

There has been some confusion in recent years between influenza and norovirus. The CDC says the ailments are not the same.

Norovirus, like influenza, is also spread person to person. A person can also become infected by touching an object that has been contaminated and then touching his or her nose, mouth or eyes. Unlike influenza, norovirus can be spread when a person eats food or drinks liquids contaminated by the virus.

The symptoms of norovirus are also different from influenza. Symptoms of norovirus usually include diarrhea, nausea, throwing up and stomach cramping. Other less common symptoms may include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and general sense of fatigue. These symptoms from norovirus typically begin within one day of exposure and last one to three days.

"While it is sometimes called the ‘stomach flu,’ norovirus is not an influenza virus," said DHHS Senior Program Manager Mike Goldsby. "Norovirus is primarily a gastrointestinal illness. Influenza is a respiratory illness."

While a flu shot or nasal mist will help protect against influenza, the CDC says there is no vaccine for norovirus. For prevention of either infection, hand washing with soap and water is recommended. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can’t kill norovirus.

Flu vaccines are available at Public Health offices at 529 I St., Eureka, 268-2108; 727 Cedar St., Garberville, 923-2779; and 77 Walnut Way, Willow Creek, 530-629-2410. Call for appointments.