Influenza season started early this year and is having its impact on Sherburne County. Here in Big Lake, residents are faring better than most. “We do not have an epidemic in our schools,” said School Nurse Nadynne Dziura. “However we do have a number of individual cases of the flu.” An epidemic, by Minnesota Dept. of Health standards, is defined as having 5% or more of the students out for the same reason at the same time. Dziura recommends getting the flu shot if possible, even though the season has already started. “It takes two weeks for the flu shot to become effective,” Dziura said. “But flu season can last until March or even later. One year it went on until May. That was the year of the H1N1 virus.” Besides taking a flu shot, hand washing, and covering coughs and sneezes, Dziura recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. “Flu germs can live for two days on uncleaned surfaces,” Dziura said. “The other thing to do is to stay home if you are sick. It is hard I know, but if you go to work sick you will get sicker and other people will get sick too.” There are different kinds of flu, Dziura says, but the best treatment for any kind of flu involves plenty of rest and extra fluids for rehydration. “There is no substitute for extra sleep,” Dziura said. “ And hydration is so important. People can get very sick if they don’t get enough fluids.” “The schools will always try to work with the students to keep up with their school work if they are out sick for that reason,” Dziura said. “People don’t realize the importance of rest and hydration to boost the immune system and fight off the flu.” New River Natalie Karg, RN, is the infection control coordinator for New River Medical Center. Karg says NRMC has been seeing many patients with influenza through their outpatient programs and in the Emergency Room. Natalie is board certified in infection prevention and control through the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. She reports a number of flu cases. “Very few people have been hospitalized,” she said. “We are asking people to only come and visit if they feel healthy.” Waiting rooms have been divided to separate those patients with flu symptoms, fever, cough, sore throat, from others to help prevent exposure. Staff try to help these patients as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of spreading the flu virus. “We have respiratory hygiene stations set up around the hospital with masks and hand sanitizers to prevent the bug from coming in,” Karg said. “The alcohol based hand sanitizer is effective for the flu virus and works very well.” For those who feel they are sick enough to be seen by a doctor, Karg recommends calling ahead to make an appointment. Treatment for the flu may include anti-viral medications or it may focus on treating flu symptoms. The flu vaccine is still available at NRMC Physicians Clinic. “It is reported to be a good match for the predominant flu strain this year,” said Karg, who notes that it is the older population which is getting hit hardest by the flu this season and the youngest-those under six months old for whom their is no vaccine available-who are most vulnerable to the flu virus. “The vaccine may not prevent the flu but it can lessen the severity of it,” Karg said. Big Lake Clinic Dr. Nabeel Ailabouni of Big Lake Clinic recommends encouraging children to wash their hands at least four times per day. “It’s the only thing that has really been proven to help reduce the spread of the flu in children,” he said. As a doctor of homeopathic medicine, Dr. Ailabouni, who was born in St. Paul and completed his residency at Des Moines University, studying as a medical doctor and as a chiropractor. He completed his residency with the Genesis Hospital System in Davenport. Dr. Ailabouni is as likely to recommend a salt water gargle or a teaspoon of honey to ease a sore throat or a cough as to prescribe medication. “The most important thing to do if you develop flu symptoms is to call your doctor right away,” Dr. Ailabouni said. “Then you can take Tamiflu. But it is only effective if it is prescribed within the first 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.” Tamiflu is a five-day course of medication which helps lessen the severity of flu symptoms and speeds recovery. “Adults can take tylenol or ibuprofen for pain and fever and any of the over the counter cold remedies.” he said. “I don’t recommend that for kids. A teaspoon of honey has proven to be as effective as cough syrup and it has antibacterial properties. But only give honey to children over a year old.” Humidifying the air and salt water gargles can help ease sore throats. Dr. Ailabouni recommends saline solution or a neti pot to relieve nasal congestion and sinus pain. “Keeping hydrated is very important,” he said. “I often recommend chicken broth to help with that.” The most important thing is to stop the spread of the flu virus, Dr. Ailabouni says. “If you are sick, stay home to protect other people,” he said. “Don’t go to work or the grocery store. You can spread the virus one day before and up to seven days after symptoms appear. Staying home for a week is not unreasonable to reduce the spread of the virus and protect the baby or the chemo patient with a compromised immune system.” Flu shots are still available in Big Lake from Coborn’s pharmacy and the Big Lake Clinic after a rush of people getting sick or getting vaccinated last week. Fewer people have been getting the flu shot for the past couple of years.