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Simple precautions can help prevent spreading viruses in the workplace

Flu cases filling emergency rooms across state

As is often the case, the influenza season in Mississippi started in the southern half of the state and headed north where large numbers of flu

patients started being seen in Jackson in the middle of December.

In early January emergency rooms throughout the state were seeing a lot of flu patients, with hot pockets in certain areas.

“We’ve heard from Natchez that they have huge numbers of people in the emergency rooms,” said Dr. Mary Currier, state epidemiologist with the

Mississippi Department of Health. “There has been a lot of emergency room activity in Jackson, as well.”

Asked about reports that people who had earlier received flu shots are getting the flu, Currier said that could mean that the flu shots were for a

different type of virus than what is currently prevalent in the state. The confirmed cases of the flu are a subvirus named A/Sydney, and it was

included in the flu vaccine this year.

“Unfortunately, the vaccine is not great at preventing influenza, but it is great at preventing complications and death,” Currier said. “That is why it is

so important for people with chronic illnesses and lung diseases, and for people over 65, to get vaccinated. Some people who get influenza even

though they were vaccinated will not have it as severe as if they hadn’t been vaccinated.”

Currier recommended people who haven’t received the flu shot to get it now even though it takes about two weeks for the shot to take effect. She

also recommends people who get the flu see a doctor quickly as there are medications available this year that will reduce the length and severity of

the flu. But the medicines need to be taken as soon as possible after contracting the illness.

As the flu season sweeps across the country, some workplaces are hard hit. Some simple precautions can help prevent spreading cold and flu

viruses in the workplace that can create not only misery, but greatly decreased work output.

“The holidays and their associated travel are beginning to usher in bronchial-related illnesses—the sniffing, sneezing, watery-eyed,

scratchy-throated monster that will plague our community,” said Dick Fields, a respiratory therapist in Gulfport. “Educated awareness is the most

proactive posture individuals and employers should embrace. Staff meetings to remind employees of some of the basic do’s and don’t can reap

huge benefits to the workplace and the community.”

Fields said one of the most important things that can be done to prevent the spread of illness is for employers to not insist employees come to

work when they don’t feel well. Similarly, employees shouldn’t believe that there is some kind of macho honor to coming into work even when

they are sick. The consequence can soon be working with a skeleton crew.

“Employees should be able to do their part in proactive prevention by not exposing co- workers,” Fields said.

Fields outlines the following simple steps can reduce the risk of bronchial-related illnesses:

• Avoid casual contact with others who you know don’t feel well.

• If you do have casual contact with people who are feeling sick, avoid any contact with your nose and eyes until you have an opportunity to wash

your hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds. Remember it is the motion, not the lotion, that gets rid of germs.

• Avoid touching your nose, and do not perform the “deep eye rub.” Rub eyes with knuckles only. If it is necessary to touch your nose, use a

tissue and wash up afterwards.

• Door knobs, elevator buttons, toilet handles and telephones are some of the major culprits of mass exposure of germs. Look for an effective

disinfectant spray. Keep a can in the office, and use it.

• Increase the frequency of daily hand washings, with children especially. They bring home bugs from schools and day care centers. During the

season everyone should wash their hands a minimum of six times a day.

Dr. Hursie Davis Sullivan, medical director of the Primary Care Clinic at the University Medical Center in Jackson, agrees that simply washing

your hands frequently can prevent you from catching or spreading viruses.

“If you are sneezing with a little runny nose and a low-grade temperature, be careful to hand wash frequently,” Sullivan said. “People will sneeze

into their hands and forget about washing.”

Sullivan doesn’t routinely recommend using vitamin C and herbs like echinacea to prevent getting ill. But when patients tell her that has worked for

them in the past, she doesn’t discourage them from continuing. She does recommend good nutrition, exercise, getting plenty of rest and avoiding

excess alcohol consumption as ways to keep the immune system healthy.

“Excess alcohol has a blunting effect on immune response, and hampers the immune responses to fight off viruses and other diseases,” Sullivan

said. “If you eat poorly, don’t rest and don’t exercise, the immune system is not as geared up for fighting off viruses.”

Coast hospitals have reported a major increase in patients, particularly those who come to the emergency room. The most common complaints

are for upper respiratory problems caused by the flu or colds.

How to tell if you have the flu or a common cold? Flu comes on more quickly. Usually you start feeling bad right away, have a high fever and a lot

of discomfort such as muscle or joint pain and respiratory discomfort. Sullivan said if the fever is less than 102 degrees, and symptoms are mild to

moderate with sneezing and a light runny nose, it is more likely to be the common cold, which should pass in five to seven days.

And while you can’t catch a cold simply by going out when it is cold, Sullivan recommends covering up well when you go outside in cold weather.

“You lose a lot of body heat from the head,” Sullivan said. “So cover the head, especially with children.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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