Flu Alert Concept

NAVAJO COUNTY — Navajo County is seeing a rising number of lab-confirmed flu cases this season, 48 total, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Flu activity is increasing statewide, the agency recorded in its latest summary of the 2016-17 Influenza season, which began Oct. 2.

Fourteen Arizona counties reported 360 flu cases in the past week, with 1,801 identified in all 15 counties total. The majority (84 percent) of cases were under the age of five years. Last year, totals within the same time frame were 256, and 954 overall — marking an increase of 89 percent.

A spike in Navajo County flu cases was first reported by Summit Healthcare, which has had 79 confirmed cases flu cases since December 2016, according to Angie Fabian, the hospital’s chief marketing and development officer.

It’s not always flu

Norovirus is another notorious, but less-suspected, winter illness, just as prevalent and often confused with the flu. Highly contagious, difficult to prevent and often labeled as stomach “flu,” norovirus is not related to influenza.

Norovirus is an aggressive gastrointestinal antigen that infects quickly — symptoms may appear within 12 to 48 hours after exposure, marked by queasiness with abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and frequent vomiting.

Each year, 70,000 people are hospitalized for norovirus infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Norovirus is spread fecally, is hard to wash away and extremely resistant to treatment, with studies showing a quick application of hand sanitizer will be ineffective. Once airborne, strains of the virus — as few as 20 to 1,000 microscopic particles — can infect food, clothing and hard surfaces.

The CDC recommends the following measures of protection:

  • Wash hands properly — Most people don’t wash their hands properly. About 20 to 30 seconds of vigorous lather using hot water and soap is required to effectively clean away norovirus, including under the nails. Norovirus can be present in vomit or stool even before illness symptoms appear, and can remain in stool for two or more weeks after symptoms pass. It is important to continue frequent hand-washing during this time.
  • While alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and hot water.
  • Take extreme food-handling precautions — Noroviruses can survive temperatures as high as 140° F and the quick-steaming processes used to cook foods like shellfish. Food that might be contaminated with Norovirus should be thrown out.
  • If you have norovirus symptoms, do not prepare food or care for others who are sick for at least two to three days after you recover. This also applies to infected workers in settings such as schools and daycare centers. Keep sick infants and children away from areas where food is being handled and prepared. Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them, and cook shellfish thoroughly before consuming.
  • Clean and disinfect cont
  • aminated surfaces: If possible, it is best for a sick adult to clean up after themselves. After vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect all contaminated surfaces with a solution of five to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water. It is important for this solution to mixed fresh every 24 hours. A disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may also be used. Keep hands away from the face, nose and mouth while cleaning and until you have thoroughly washed them.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit
  • or stool. Handle soiled items carefully, without shaking them, to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash hands after handling. Soiled items should be washed with detergent at the maximum
  • available cycle length and machine dried.

Reach the reporter at nmadden@wmicentral.com

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