Editor's note: A version of this article was published in the Jan. 2, 2012, issue of Steamboat Today.
This year’s influenza season arrived early in the Yampa Valley. Dr. Rosanne Iversen, family medicine physician at Steamboat Family Medicine, started seeing patients with the flu in December.
More information about the flu can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season. Health insurance will pay for flu vaccinations. For a flu vaccination, visit your health care provider or the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. Drop-in vaccination clinics for all ages are available at the VNA in Steamboat Springs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Thursday. For more information, visit www.nwcovna.org or call 970-879-1632.
Monday Medical columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today's Yampa Valley Health section. Read more columns here.
“That is a month earlier than previous years,” Iversen said. “Along with the early start of the season, Colorado is one of 35 states that is now experiencing widespread flu activity, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. A flu experience can range from mild discomfort to severe illness and even death.
When it comes to the flu, the importance of prevention and vaccination cannot be overstated.
Steve Hilley, RN, quality programs coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center, said the hospital and local health care providers always take a proactive approach to flu season and start planning in September.
“Last year, we implemented a mandatory influenza vaccination policy at YVMC,” Hilley said. “This means that all employees are offered the influenza vaccine.
“We want the community to know that in order to protect our patients, staff and visitors, the few employees who have chosen not to get the vaccine are required to wear a mask. This year, 99 percent of our employees took the vaccine.
"This is a precaution to help prevent the possible spread of the influenza virus throughout the facility,” Hilley added.
The flu virus is spread by coughing, sneezing or nasal secretions. According to the CDC, the most effective means of prevention is a yearly flu vaccine for everyone age 6 months and older.
Some medical conditions may prevent employees or other individuals from receiving the vaccine. For example, individuals who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. Also, people with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome should consult a physician before taking the vaccine.
Anyone can get the flu, but the CDC notes that rates of infections are highest among children.
Other than children, those who are at high risk for serious complications of the flu include individuals with certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, as well as people who are 65 and older. Getting vaccinated is especially important for individuals in these high-risk categories.
Along with getting a flu vaccine, the CDC recommends several preventive actions to stop the spread of germs:
• Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
• Washing your hands frequently with soap and water.
• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Avoiding close contact with individuals who are sick.
“During this flu season, we have seen patients from school-aged children to adults in their mid- to late 40s,” Iversen said. “The patients who experience the most severe cases have not been vaccinated. We recommend patients get the vaccine as soon as they are able.”
To get vaccinated, contact your health care provider or the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
Rosie Kern is the marketing and communications manager at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.