BEMIDJI – As the flu spreads throughout the country, the American Red Cross is urging the public to get the flu shot, if they haven’t already.
At clinics in Bemidji, Blackduck, Walker and Cass Lake, seven cases – six in the month of December – were reported. At Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, five cases of the flu were reported in December.
The Red Cross, which itself does not offer flu shots, is reminding everyone of the steps that people can take to prevent the spread of the flu this season, which the Centers for Disease Control says is the worst influenza outbreak in several years in the United States.
Widespread flu activity is reported in 41 states.
The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months old and older.
In addition to getting vaccinated, the Red Cross offers the following steps to stop the spread of the flu virus:
-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into the elbow, not the hands.
-- Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand-rub.
-- Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
-- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
-- Stay home if sick.
The common signs of influenza are high fever, severe body aches, headache, being extremely tired, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and vomiting and/or diarrhea (more common in children).
If someone in the household does come down with the flu, the Red Cross advises the following:
-- Designate one person as the caregiver and have other household members avoid close contact with that person.
-- Make sure the ill person stays home and rests until 24 hours after the fever is gone.
-- Designate a sick room for the ill person if possible. If there is more than one sick person, they can share the sick room if needed. If there is more than one bathroom, designate one for those who are sick to use. Give each ill person their own drinking glass, washcloth and towel.
-- Keep the following either in the sick room: tissues, a trash can lined with a plastic trash bag, alcohol-based hand rub, a cooler or pitcher with ice and drinks, a thermometer and a cup with straw or squeeze bottle to help with drinking. A humidifier will provide extra moisture, making it easier for the sick person to breathe. Sick people should wear a facemask, if available, when they leave the sick room or are around others.
-- Give plenty of liquids (water and other clear liquids) at the first sign of flu and continue throughout the illness.
-- Treat fever and cough with medicines that can be purchased at the store. Children who are ill never should be given aspirin or products containing aspirin.
-- If the person gets very sick, is pregnant or has a medical condition (like asthma) that puts them at higher risk of flu complications, call their doctor.
-- Disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, computers, telephones, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, toys and other surfaces that are commonly touched around the home or workplace.
-- Wash dishes using very hot water and soap.
-- Wash clothes in a standard washing machine with detergent and very hot water, tumble dry on a hot dryer setting and wash hands after handling dirty laundry.
-- Wear disposable gloves when in contact with or cleaning up body fluids.
The Red Cross also advised that people should seek medical care immediately if any of the following symptoms:
-- Fast breathing, trouble breathing or bluish skin color.
-- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen (adults).
-- Confusion or sudden dizziness.
-- Not drinking enough fluids, not being able to eat, or severe or persistent vomiting.
-- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
-- Not waking up, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held or not interacting (children).
-- Fever with a rash (children).
-- No tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal (children).
More information about the flu season is available on redcross.org.