Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Flu cases increase, still time for shots

By EILEEN FELDMAN
Leader executive editor

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” according to Melissa Eads, nurse coordinator at the Lonoke County Health Unit in Lonoke.

She said the area is beginning to see an increase in the number of reported flu cases and that after a temporary lull, the health unit is also seeing more people coming in to receive flu shots, she said.

“We tell them to stay away from those with the flu for two weeks while their immunity builds up,” she said. “We’ve had a lot come in for shots in the last few weeks.”

Eads said the unit’s secretary had gone to a local emergency room to pick up some paperwork and reported the ER was full of flu patients and Eads said some local pharmacies reported running out of Theraflu (an over-the-counter symptom reliever).

Eads said the Lonoke unit still has about 600 doses of vaccine and will continue to vaccinate through the end of April as will Cabot’s Health Unit. She said more vaccine is available if the health unit runs short.

Eads points out that because one is immunized, that is not a guarantee one will avoid getting the flu, although she said she is confident most influenza viruses circulating are covered by this year’s vaccine.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, so far this year, the virus strain H1N1 is causing the vast majority of flu-like illnesses, according to Ann Gerberding, head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But a new H3N2 strain emerged near the end of Australia’s flu season, too late to be included in this season’s U.S. vaccine. Called H3N2/Brisbane-like, or A/Brisbane, it is now beginning to sicken Americans, although it still is making for a small proportion of cases, Gerberding said. H3N2 viruses are associated with more severe illness, according to the CDC.

The CDC reported widespread flu activity in 31 states as of Feb. 2.

The CDC also advises that it is too early to tell how widely A/Brisbane will circulate in this country or how well this year’s vaccine will provide protection.

Eads said clinics and emergency rooms get nasal swabs on patients who come in seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms. The virus strains are identified through the swabs and the information is sent on to the CDC which keeps statistics on numbers of reported cases and strains.

Although the Jacksonville Health Unit doesn’t see people who are suffering from the flu or other influenza-like illnesses, the staff there usually has their ears to the ground for reports of sickness or infection.

Patricia Henderson, the unit’s administrator, said that she’s heard few reports of the flu or other infectious illnesses in the area but she said the clinic doesn’t see patients suffering from cold or flu as its purpose is to provide vaccinations and health information, among other services.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that flu cases are on the rise in Arkansas.

Patients suffering from the flu should see their family doctors or visit the emergency room if their symptoms are severe enough they seek treatment, Henderson said.

The health unit does however inoculate for the flu and while this may seem somewhat late to be getting a flu shot, health professionals suggest those who want protection from the flu still have time to be vaccinated. Henderson said the flow of patients to the unit to receive a flu shot has “remained pretty steady” since the vaccine first became available in November.
Henderson recalled the mass vaccination held that month as an exercise testing preparedness of a mass dispensing plan. She said the Jacksonville unit inoculated “roughly 1,000 people in one day” which protected them perhaps from this year’s round of flu.

Cabot and Lonoke participated in the mass vaccination. Eads reported at least 1000 people were inoculated during that round and since then more than another 1,000 flu shots have been given.
There are everyday reports of cold and flu including increased absenteeism from work and school. But Dr. Belinda Shook, Beebe superintendent, said her principals have not reported high absenteeism. But some schools have been hard hit, Bald Knob considered closing down because of so much illness, according to Stacey Whitfield, a registered nurse with the Lonoke School District.

She said out of approximately 1,800 Lonoke district students, there have been about nine children and some adults and teachers out with the flu. “We’ve had about three cases in each school,” she said. “We’re not really seeing a whole lot of cases of flu but there’s been some strep throat and a real bad stomach virus going around.”

She said the season started late this year, after the Christmas break, but she said a lot of teachers and students had gotten their flu shots earlier.

“We started sending notes out in October and Cabot had a free clinic. Searcy Healthworks (from White County Medical Center) came out and inoculated teachers and other staff,” Whitfield said.

Most healthy people recover from the flu without complications, according to the CDC, but those who do get the flu should:

Stay home;

Get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco;

Some over-the-counter medications can relieve symptoms of the flu (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever).

Serious illness from the flu is more likely in certain groups of people including people 65 and older, pregnant women, people with certain chronic medical conditions and young children.

On its Website, the CDC recommends actions everyone can take to help prevent the spread of influenza including:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick and keep your distance from others if you’re sick;

Whenever possible, stay home from work, school or errands when you are sick;

Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and

Wash your hands with soap often.

Symptoms of the flu include high fever, aches, chills, tiredness and sudden onset of symptoms. There may also be extreme tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches and diarrhea and vomiting (although these are more common among children). Having these symptoms does not always mean one has the flu. Many different illnesses, including the common cold, can have similar symptoms, according to the CDC.

Two antiviral drugs are approved for treatment of the flu and available by presription. Treatment lasts for five days and should be begun within two days of becoming ill.

According to the CDC, high risk groups (sucvh as those more susceptible to the flu) who should be innoculated include:

People 65 years of age and older;

Children ages 6 months to 23 months;

Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic lung or heart disorders including heart disease and asthma;

Pregnant women;

Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes), kidney diseases, blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia), or weakened immune systems, including persons with HIV/AIDS;

Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;

Children and teenagers, 6 months to 18 years old, who take aspirin daily;

Health-care workers involved in direct, hands-on care to patients and household members and out-of home caregivers of infants under the age of 6 months. (Children under the age of 6 months cannot be vaccinated.)

Caregivers and household contacts of persons in high-risk groups;

Children and adolescents aged 2 through 18 years who qualify under the Vaccine for Children (VFC) Program and who are household contacts or out-of-home caregivers of persons in high-risk groups.