As Wyoming begins to see early signs of the flu season’s arrival, flu shots remain the best way available to help win the fight against influenza illness, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).
“Because influenza makes its rounds every year, it is something familiar, but it should never be overlooked or accepted as a minor problem. Flu is a serious illness,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state epidemiologist and acting state health officer with WDH.
“Nearly everyone six months or older should get seasonal flu vaccines each year. Flu shots are safe and the most important action people can take to help prevent getting ill with influenza and passing it on to others,” she said.
Reggie McClinton, a WDH epidemiologist, said the department has already started to receive a few reports of influenza in locations scattered around the state.
“The level of flu activity we saw in Wyoming during the 2016-17 flu season was considered to be moderately severe,” McClinton said. “Unfortunately, we saw 15 flu-related deaths, mostly among older residents.”
Harrist said anyone can get the flu and healthy people do usually recover. “But they can also spread the virus to others who may be more vulnerable such as the elderly. Every year we see hospitalizations and deaths connected to influenza,” she added.
Influenza vaccines are available in many locations, including local public health offices, workplaces, doctors’ offices and retail stores. “Flu vaccines are not expensive and most insurance policies cover them,” Harrist said.
In Wyoming, federal funding covers vaccine costs for many children and adults through WDH-managed programs. Qualified children include those covered by Medicaid, uninsured children, American Indian or Alaska native children. Qualified adults include those who are uninsured or underinsured.
Harrist noted nasal mist vaccines available in previous seasons are no longer recommended.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.
It takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection. “We don’t want people to wait until folks around them are ill to decide it’s time for their flu shot,” Harrist said.
Basic common-sense measures can also slow the spread of influenza and other respiratory diseases. These steps include covering the mouth and nose with sleeves or tissues when sneezing and coughing; frequently washing hands; and staying home from work, school, day care and errands when ill.