Flu sea­son start­ing to gain mo­men­tum

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - OPINION -

Cough, fever, sore throat, feel­ing mis­er­able? vou could be among the more than 400 Mont­gomery County res­i­dents who came down with the flu al­ready this sea­son.

As of Jan. 4, there were 420 sus­pected cases of in­fluenza re­ported in Mont­gomery County and 117 con­firmed by state labs, ac­cord­ing to county Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Di­rec­tor Frank Custer. Sixty-nine county res­i­dents were hos­pi­tal­ized with the flu so far, 53 of whom were over age 50, and there were two deaths in which the flu was thought to play a role, he said.

“The num­bers are not as high, but they could reach the num­bers we had in 2010-11,” Custer said, when the county recorded 575 sus­pected cases, 187 con­firmed, 75 hos­pi­tal­ized and seven deaths.

“It’s still early in the sea­son, but [the num­bers] are cer­tainly up over last year, which was light, but not close to 2009-10,” the year of the H1N1 virus, he said.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot, which does not guar­an­tee 100 per­cent pro­tec­tion, “but this [year’s] flu shot ap­pears to cover most of the viruses float­ing around,” Custer said, not­ing “91 per­cent of the in­fluenza viruses an­a­lyzed by the CDC this year are cov­ered by the vac­cine.”

In­for­ma­tion on free flu shots avail­able at the county’s health cen­ters in Norristown, Pottstown and Wil­low Grove is at http://health.montc o p a . o r g / h e a l t h / c wp/ view,A,3,n,67285.asp.

On­set of the flu is usu­ally sud­den, one to five days af­ter ex­po­sure, and lasts two to seven days, ac­cord­ing to the Penn­syl­va­nia De­part­ment of Health web­site. Symp­toms in­clude fever over 100 de­grees, cough, headache, sore throat, mus­cle aches and fa­tigue. It is spread by air droplets, of­ten by the in­fected per­son cough­ing or sneez­ing.

Antiviral medi c a t i o n s may be help­ful early on, but the treat­ment gen­er­ally com­prises rest and drink­ing lots of flu­ids.

The state health de­part­ment char­ac­ter­ized the flu as wide­spread, fol­low­ing an in­crease in in­fluenza re­ports in all re­gions of the state the week of Dec. 23 to 29. The Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion es­ti­mates be­tween 5 per­cent and 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion gets the flu each year, rep­re­sent­ing 600,000 to 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple in Penn­syl­va­nia. Ac­cord­ing to the CDC, an es­ti­mated 180 to 2,000 Penn­syl­va­ni­ans die of flu-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions ev­ery year, mostly in the over 65 age group.

Abing­ton Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal has seen an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple show­ing up at the ER with flu-re­lated symp­toms, of­fi­cials said this week, and the di­rec­tor of the fam­ily medicine res­i­dency pro­gram at the hospi­tal, Dr. John J. Rus­sell, said his prac­tice in Jenk­in­town has also seen a re­cent in­flux.

“Our vol­ume has been un­usu­ally high for all of De­cem­ber, but even more so the past two weeks with a large in­flux of flu, as well as RSV in chil­dren,” Emer­gency Trauma Cen­ter Di­rec­tor Beth Fuller said in a Jan. 4 email.

RSV, the most com­mon germ that causes lung and air­way in­fec­tions in in­fants and young chil­dren, is a con­ta­gious vi­ral disease.

“I cer­tainly think there is a large co­hort of peo­ple sick now, some with res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses and also a GI ill­ness that is not the flu,” Rus­sell said Jan. 7.

The most com­mon month for the flu is Fe­bru­ary, he said, with Jan­uary sec­ond. Those who got a flu shot in the fall are cov­ered for the whole sea­son, he said, not­ing the vac­cine “works best [90 per­cent] in the health­i­est of peo­ple,” and a new high dose is avail­able for se­niors.

“My un­der­stand­ing is this [year’s vac­cine] is a de­cent match” for the flu strains af­fect­ing peo­ple, Rus­sell said, not­ing it takes about two weeks to be fully ef­fec­tive.

Tam­i­flu and Re­lenza can be pre­scribed, but the med­i­ca­tions have to be taken early on, he said, and can shorten the du­ra­tion of the disease by about 1.5 days.

Norristown physi­cian Dr. Charles Cut­ler also has seen an in­crease in pa­tients with vi­ral in­fec­tions he said Fri­day.

“The last cou­ple weeks, we’ve seen a lot of vi­ral res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses,” Cut­ler said. “I think some have been sick enough to have the flu. It seems there are more than in pre­vi­ous years.

“We’re see­ing also a fair amount of in­testi­nal in­fec­tious dis­eases that last a few days, more than in pre­vi­ous years.”

Cut­ler pre­scribed flu­ids, rest and over-the-counter medicines for aches and coughs for re­lief from flu symp­toms.

Chil­dren should not be given prod­ucts with as­pirin in them, Rus­sell noted.

“The flu is a virus; an an­tibi­otic will not help. It de­pletes the body of its nor­mal pro­tec­tive bac­te­ria … in some in­stances it could make you worse,” Cut­ler said.

“The key thing is get­ting the flu vac­cine,” he said. “It pre­vents one of the real se­ri­ous viruses from get­ting into your sys­tem.”

To keep from pass­ing on the virus to oth­ers, hands should be washed with soap and water, uten­sils, cups and food should not be shared and the sick per­son might wear a mask for a few days, he said.

“San­i­tary con­di­tions are really im­por­tant.”

Other preven­tion tips in­clude: Cover your mouth and nose with a tis­sue when you cough or sneeze; get plenty of rest, eat prop­erly, and dress ap­pro­pri­ately for the weather; min­i­mize time in crowded ar­eas and avoid con­tact with those at high risk for the flu, such as the el­derly and those with chronic ill­ness.

When ill, pre­vent the spread of germs by stay­ing home from school or work, if pos­si­ble. Re­turn to work only af­ter be­ing fever free for 24 hours, with­out the use of fever re­duc­ers.

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