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Concerning infectious diseases: information and action

September 15, 2012
By C. Paul Martin, M.D. , Marshall Independent

The media continues to present us with a plethora of informative but sometimes alarming news, similar to its role in the areas of political events, disasters, accidents, fires, etc. By doing so, the media serves the public since it needs this information to prepare itself for positive action and preventive behaviors. In such a way, the media is a valuable asset to public and personal health care. However, its information must be used wisely.

A month ago, this column (Independent, Aug. 18, 2012) discussed the infectious diseases of concern to us now and in the coming fall. Some of these illnesses are more prominent than usual; others rear their head each year.

The public needs to discern fact from fiction and evaluate these infectious challenges and act accordingly.

Just as a media icon of the past, Walter Winchell, would relate this information in his rapid, urgent and staccato delivery, here is a brief summary of the present status of important infectious diseases and recommendations for public and personal action.

Each year, influenza is a serious disease with a variable presence. Recently, a variant of influenza A (H3N2v) has caused 2,500 cases in the U.S. including Minnesota. Avoidance of contact with swine is recommended. The available "flu shot" is protective.

Annual influenza morbidity is 200,000 cases in the U.S. with a range of mortality of 3000 to 50,000, but the possibility of greater morbidity and increased mortality always exists. Since the prominent influenza strains predicted for this year are expected to be different from those of 2010 and 2011 seasons, the annual "flu shot" or FluMist is recommended for all people greater that 6 months of age. Infant children and the elderly are at greatest risk for illness.

Pertussis or "Whooping Cough" has shown increased prevalence in recent years. In Minnesota, 2,500 cases have been reported with a number of deaths. One case has been reported in Lyon County. A booster injection of Tdap is recommended for all people needing immunizations and all adults of age greater than 50 years. Your personal immunization history should be reviewed.

West Nile viral encephalitis "came" to the U.S. in 1999 and has spread throughout the country. This season, more than 700 cases have been reported, some in Lyon County, with 26 deaths in the U.S. Since it is transmitted by a mosquito vector, the usual precautions and treatments are recommended, i.e., removal of standing water areas, clothing changes and DEET sprays.

The Hanta virus has been reported to be associated with housing in Yellowstone National Park (Curry Village). While a serious disease which is often fatal, it is not usually found in our area.

Consult your family doctor and staff if you have questions about any of these illnesses. The Minnesota Department of Health is also available to the community for consultations for the medical community and the public.

However, maintaining optimal personal general health is the most important preventive measure and treatment for these concerning diseases.



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