(Stillwater)- The Payne County Health Department says the flu is taking a toll in Payne County, but there are some steps you can take to avoid getting it.

Feeling puny? You are not alone

– Flu now widespread

According to the Payne County Health Department the state’s influenza activity level as measured by sentinel physician reporting and laboratory testing in Oklahoma has been upgraded to “widespread,” the highest category possible.

Vaccine still available, shots encouraged

Hospitals, physicians, schools and people in the work place are now being affected by influenza-like symptoms. Due to the increased spread of influenza occurring in local communities, Payne County Health Department wants to remind everyone who has not received a flu shot that it is not too late to get one. Plenty of vaccine is still available at the Payne County Health Department in Stillwater and Cushing. It is also reported that several area physicians also have vaccine available.

What does the flu shot protect against?

Flu shots protect against three different strains of influenza virus. Therefore, even those who have had a respiratory illness this winter may benefit from getting a shot. Although the strain of flu that is circulating now is not contained in this year’s vaccine, the Oklahoma State Department of Health is still encouraging those who have not had a flu shot to get it now. The vaccination can still provide enough cross protection to make illnesses milder and prevent flu related complications.

Symptoms? Now what?

Check with your health care provider about possible anti-viral medication that can be given to help treat the influenza as well as provide possible protection for other members of the household even if they have been vaccinated.

Other things that make you queasy

The Payne County Health Department has also received reports of a large number of folks suffering from symptoms caused by a “stomach virus”. This very contagious virus is most likely the norovirus. It can spread quickly from one person to the next resulting in a high level of sickness within a community. Health officials urge the public to practice good hygiene – especially hand washing – to lessen the likelihood of contracting the virus.

Signs you have that nasty “noro”

Infection with norovirus usually leads to vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Headache and low-grade fever may also occur. The symptoms appear quickly and may last from one to four days. Any person of any age group can become infected with this virus.

Bad news, good news

Because the virus can appear in many strains or forms, it is difficult for the body to develop immunity to it. Although it does spread easily, serious illness rarely occurs.

Momma said to keep your hands out of your mouth

Some common ways the virus can be spread includes eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus; touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated and then putting your hands in your mouth; or through direct contact with another person who has the virus and has experienced diarrhea or vomiting.

Important tips

No specific treatment is available nor is a vaccine. Also, antibiotics should not be used. Most important – stay hydrated and drink plenty of clear liquids. A loss of fluids can worsen the symptoms.

Precautions that can be taken to possibly avoid being infected by the virus are:

Wash hands thoroughly after each bathroom visit and before preparing food.

Make certain that persons with diarrhea do not prepare food for others until their symptoms have stopped.

Avoid putting fingers or objects – such as pens – in your mouth.

Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.

Remove and wash clothing, linens or toys that are soiled with the stool or vomit.

Flush or discard any vomit/and or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.

If you have questions concerning these viruses or would like information on getting flu shot, contact your physician or the Payne County Health Department in Stillwater or Cushing at (405) 372-8200 or (918) 225-3377. Additional information is also available at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/gastro/norovirus-qa.htm. or www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/flu/index.html.