Flu activity is on the rise.
The week of Dec. 23-29 was the first week of widespread flu activity in South Carolina, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. There have been 275 confirmed cases of the flu so far this season, with 76 flu-related hospitalizations and 11 flu-related deaths.
Last year’s flu season was the most deadly in decades, causing more than 80,000 deaths in the U.S., including 185 children.
Symptoms and treatment
The flu usually starts abruptly, with symptoms including fever, muscle aches, sore throat and a cough. Symptoms can also include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, vomiting and diarrhea.
The flu can make people of any age sick. Although most people are sick with the flu for only a few days, some have a much more serious illness and may need medical treatment.
Fortunately, there are steps people can take to limit their chances of becoming sick with the flu. The most important is to receive the flu vaccine, which can help prevent the flu and reduce the severity of symptoms if you contract the virus. It’s not too late to benefit from the vaccine.
The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk of complications, including pregnant women, young children, individuals age 65 years and older and those with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
It’s also important to practice proper hand-washing techniques, says Angela Harris, infection control manager at Tidelands Health. That’s true any time of year, but it becomes even more important during flu season.
“We cannot emphasize enough how important hand washing is,” Harris says. “We know that people who properly wash their hands stand a significantly better chance of avoiding illness than those who don’t.”
The key, Harris says, is to make sure you are using the correct technique and washing your hands on a regular basis.
Hands should be washed:
- Before, during and after food preparation
- Before eating
- Before and after caring for a sick individual
- Before and after treating a wound or cut
- After using the toilet or changing diapers
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After touching garbage
So what’s the proper hand-washing technique?
Harris suggests people follow the CDC’s five-step approach:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water
- Lather your hands thoroughly and completely by rubbing them together with the soap
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry drier.
If possible, Harris encourages people to avoid close contact with people who are sick, and to avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.