Keeping The Flu At Bay

Fever, body ache, cough, sore throat?

You’re not alone.

Flu season has struck, hard.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health lists influenza activity in the state as “widespread” for early January.

The number of cases was up in all regions of the state from the end of December.

The department is assuming that people with “influenza-like illness” or ILI, have the flu. Technicians and physicians have confirmed enough cases.

The symptoms of ILI are fever over 100 degrees, and cough or sore throat, with no other known cause. Chills and body aches go along, too, but are not required to meet the ILI definition.

“Flu is in the community,” Dr. Sunny Thomas at Warren Pediatrics said. “We see a lot of kids with respiratory symptoms. The ER is seeing a lot of kids with influenza.”

“In the last two weeks Warren General Hospital has seen a spike in emergency room visits, with influenza-like illness (ILI),” Infection Prevention Nurse Betsy Williams said. “Many cases are confirmed influenza, primarily the influenza A strain. But there are other co-circulating respiratory viruses causing illness in the community.”

Certain cases merit a visit to the hospital.

“When to visit the ER: respiratory distress, signs of dehydration, uncontrollable fever, pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or dizziness,” Williams said.

Pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems and certain chronic health problems including asthma should contact their doctor.

There are also flu medications.

“The medicine that is used to treat flu has very limited benefit,” Thomas said. “You have to start it very early in the course.”

“For healthy children, the medication is not needed,” he said.

Over-the-counter medications may be used to treat fever and cough.

For the most part, staying home, drinking plenty of fluids, and limiting contact with people who are not sick is good enough.

“If you are ill, try to avoid others to prevent the spread,” Williams said. “Stay at home and rest. Avoid close contact with well people in your house so you won’t make them sick.”

“Keep your sick child at home,” Thomas said. “Don’t send them to school. They should stay home, take lots of fluid, they can take some fever reducer as needed.”

Regular hand-washing, with soap, and covering coughs and sneezes help minimize the spread of the flu.

He said children should not return to school until their fever is gone without the use of a fever reducer.

Between 600,000 and two million Pennsylvanians get the flu every year, according to the Department of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that between 180 and 2,000 people in the state die of the disease each year. Most of the fatal cases are in people 65 and older. In the first week of January, 18 deaths were reported statewide, with all but two of those being among the elderly.

Vaccine

The typical peak season hasn’t even hit yet.

Supplies of vaccine are limited locally, with some providers running out and waiting for new supply, but the Department of Health reports no shortage.

Those who haven’t yet gotten a flu shot are advised to do so.

“If flu vaccine is available, and you did not get it… you should be getting vaccinated,” Thomas said. “The most important thing is, if possible, get the flu vaccine.”

“Flu season has not yet peaked and vaccination is strongly encouraged,” Williams said. “The vaccine is a good match for the circulating strain.”

Sometimes, the experts who predict which strain of the flu to protect against are wrong. This year is not one of those times.

“They say the type of flu that we see are in the vaccines that we are giving,” Thomas said. “People that had the vaccine, it is pretty good for them and they are protected.”

“Occasionally we hear that some people had the vaccine … still got the flu,” he said. Many of those cases are due to incomplete vaccination, he said. In young children, the vaccine is given in two stages.

The vaccine comes in a few forms. The standard flu shot includes killed virus. Almost everyone can have the shot, Thomas said.

A nasal mist may be given to most patients over the age of two. Because the mist includes partially live vaccine, it cannot be given to some patients.

“Both are equally effective and safe,” Thomas said.

A version of the vaccine for children under two contains no preservatives.

More information about the flu is available at a variety of websites including: warrenpediatrics.org, flu.gov, flufreepa.gov, and cdc.gov/flu.