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Editorial: New year, cheers; new flu season, boo

As we ring in 2014, we also ring in another seasonal outbreak of influenza. While this area has yet to be hard hit, we’re reminded by health officials not to wait before taking precautions to maintain our good health.

According to Mary Boles, River Falls Clinic manager of support staff: “We are seeing some positive cases of flu coming into the River Falls, Ellsworth and Spring Valley Medical Clinics. We continue to have flu vaccine available, and it is highly recommended that everyone get immunized.”

Pierce County Public Health Nurse Dianne H-Robinson says the national Center for Disease Control reports that besides the latest flu virus, other respiratory viruses are circulating that cause similar symptoms and illnesses. These include rhinovirus (one cause of the common cold) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the biggest cause of severe respiratory illness in young children and the leading cause of death for those 65 and older.

Robinson said the flu and common cold are both respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. Both have similar symptoms, though colds are milder.

People with colds are more likely to have just a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally don’t bring on other serious health problems, like pneumonia and bacterial infections.

Robinson says the absolute best way to protect against the flu, now that the season is here, is to get vaccinated.

Sharon Reyzer, St. Croix County Public Health supervisor, says the latest flu strain is Influenza A (H1N1), which seems to be infecting young and middle-aged adults the hardest. Reyzer adds this is the same virus responsible for the harsh flu outbreak of 2009.

People with flu-like symptoms — body aches, fever, fatigue, chills, dry cough and headache — should see a doctor right away. Reyzer also warns that those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are more susceptible to complications from flu and are especially urged to get their shots.

Everyone that we spoke to stressed frequent hand washing as the biggest preventer of catching a cold or the flu. In the same vein, keeping your hands from mouth and nose, where germs spread, is equally important.

We offer these reminders as a way of wishing everyone a healthy, happy start to the new year.