Flu season starting to gain momentum
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.