Two bugs have been circulating this flu season, wreaking havoc. Both are sometimes colloquially called "the flu," but the two viruses are very different. Here's what you need to know.
First up is the influenza bug -- the actual, literal, flu. Nationwide, it's bad this season. In Snohomish County alone, already six people have been killed by the flu or flu-related complications.
To put that in perspective, in the past two flu seasons, a total of three people died. So in a couple months we've already doubled two years worth of deaths.
The flu mostly attacks your lungs, causing symptoms that include fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, runny nose and a cough. It's spread through the air thanks to that cough or an uncovered sneeze. Be sure to cover your mouth and wash your hands regularly.
Also, get vaccinated. As the Snohomish Health District notes, the flu vaccine is safe and provides the best protection against the bug.
This is worth emphasizing, since vaccines don't only protect you, the individual. They also help halt the disease's spread, keeping it from being passed on to people who may die if they catch it -- young children, the elderly and the infirm.
The other bug that's been making headlines is the highly contagious norovirus, also known as the Norwalk virus or, simply, the stomach flu. It causes all types of intestinal distress, including severe vomiting and diarrhea.
Last year, the norovirus made local headlines in Everett when it sickened roughly 200 people at a cheerleading competition at Comcast Arena. This year, it's making national headlines because a new more virulent strain is circulating.
Medicine won't cure the norovirus and there's no vaccine against the bug. Instead, it's up to your immune system to get rid of it. Usually you get over it after a miserable 48 hours.
And yet there is an almost comically simple way to protect yourself against the norovirus. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it: "Practice proper hand washing and general cleanliness."
So wash your freaking hands, and do it right. Scrub them all over -- especially around the nails -- for about 30 seconds, or the time it takes you to slowly sing the alphabet. Always do this after using the restroom and before preparing food.
Keep in mind these two viruses aren't the only threats out there. Whooping cough, while no longer at epidemic levels locally, remains a problem. And then there's your run-of-the-mill colds.
In other words, it could be a long winter.
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