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State: Flu has appeared in 44 counties

The number of flu-like illnesses in Tennessee has surpassed epidemic thresholds defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), according to the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).
Flu cases have been verified in 44 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
According to the TDH, flu activity is most common between December and February; however, seasonal flu can occur as late as May. As such, the TDH continues to urge all residents to get immunized against the flu. The flu vaccine is the “best protection available” against the flu, according to the TDH. Other important preventative measures include hand washing, avoiding touching your face and covering a cough or sneeze.
Those who have flu-like symptoms are also encouraged to seek medical care as soon as possible, the TDH said. The CDC reported that clinical benefits are greatest when antiviral treatment is administered early, ideally within 48 hours of symptoms starting. Antivirals may decrease the severity of the flu; however, antivirals are not advisable for all patients.
“It’s important to contact your healthcare provider so appropriate treatment can begin quickly,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “While common colds and the flu may have similar symptoms, including muscle pain, fever, sore throat, coughing and overall weakness, the onset of flu usually happens more quickly and the symptoms are often more severe. Your healthcare provider can evaluate you and advise if antiviral medications are appropriate. In some cases, he or she may provide antivirals before flu confirmation test are complete, as a precautionary measure.”
According to the TDH, there have been 29 pediatric flu-related deaths in Tennessee, including three in December 2014.
“Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to the families and friends affected by these tragic deaths and we are deeply sorry for the loss of each of these children,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Regrettably there is no perfect protection against influenza, and some people are more vulnerable than others, so we continue to urge everyone more than six months of age to be vaccinated, to provide the best available protection to the people we love, our communities and ourselves.
“We also urge individuals with flu-like symptoms to rapidly consult their healthcare providers about the advisability of beginning antiviral medications,” Dreyzehner continued.
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On Monday, Jan. 5, Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) announced that the health system has begun implementing visitation restrictions due to the widespread flu activity in the region.
“Due to the risk to our patients, Mountain States is implementing visitation restrictions at all of our hospitals,” said Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention for the health system. “We are asking that anyone under the age of 12 and anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms refrain from visiting patients in our hospitals at this time.”
According to MSHA, flu-like symptoms include cough, fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills and fatigue.
“It’s important to understand that people can spread the flu before they even know that they have it,” Swift said.
“The disease is contagious 24 hours before the onset of symptoms, and people can continue to spread the virus for a full week after the onset of symptoms, sometimes even longer in children,” Swift continued.
MSHA also advises individuals who have health conditions which make them vulnerable to the flu to avoid visiting hospitals. Pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and those with asthma, diabetes or lung disorders are encouraged to avoid hospitals.
For additional information about the 2014-2015 flu season, visit the CDC website at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/index.htm.