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Officials warn to take flu precautions

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

It's not enough to wash your hands. You have to wash them the right way -- especially during flu season.

Health officials said earlier this week suspected flu cases have jumped in five Southern states, and the primary strain circulating tends to make people sicker than other types. It particularly is hard on the elderly.

"It looks like it's shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Butch Schlyer, health administrator for Ellis County, said among precautions to take to avoid the flu are to get a flu shot and to wash your hands the right way, using soap and scrubbing vigorously for at least 30 seconds.

"If you just sprinkle water on your hands, and kind of rinse them off, that's not doing a lot," Schlyer said.

Schlyer said so far in the county there has been influenza-like illness, but he didn't know if they were actual cases of the flu.

"I believe Kansas has had some reported cases, but none in Ellis County," he said. "It's very early for the reported cases, so we wouldn't expect a whole lot. But CDC is expecting a severe season for the flu."

"Our flu activity doesn't peak until January, February," Schlyer said. "There's a lot of time yet for people to get a flu shot. I would sure encourage that."

The last time a conventional flu season started this early was the winter of 2003-04, which proved to be one of the most lethal seasons in the past 35 years, with more than 48,000 deaths. The dominant type of flu then was the same one seen this year.

One key difference between then and now: In 2003-04, the vaccine was poorly matched to the predominant flu strain.

Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older. On average, approximately 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.

If you do come down with the flu, take it easy, said Rich Matzke, an associate health nurse at Hays Medical Center.

"Just drink a lot of fluids, get plenty of rest, and just stay away from others," he said.

As is the case with washing your hands, there's a right and wrong way when you sneeze. Don't sneeze into your hand or a tissue.

"If you do sneeze, it's better to just sneeze into your elbow," Matzke said. "People don't shake hands with their elbows."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.