“The flu is coming! The flu is coming!” It’s the cry heard on every news station, but doesn’t the flu happen every winter? What’s the big deal?
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Robert Hartmann, Interim Health Officer for El Dorado County, this year’s flu is no worse and no better than most years. “It tends to start around October on the East Coast and move westward,” said Hartman. “It generally hits our area in late January through February. This year the Southeastern United States got hit hard and early and 47 states are still reporting flu activity. California has had widespread flu for the last three weeks.”
“We are seeing some flu cases in El Dorado County, but nothing like the large numbers seen in some other states across the nation,” said Hartman. “This is a typical year when flu is widespread throughout California, but not worse than in recent years and there are no unusual strains of flu circulating.”
According to Dr. Hartmann, who has been the Health Officer for Amador County for the past 14 years and for El Dorado County for the last year, El Dorado County hasn’t received any reports of flu-related outbreaks or deaths in the county this year. “We have, however, recently seen an increase in flu activity at Barton and Marshall hospitals, and there has been an increase in the number of people requesting flu vaccination at both Public Health clinics.”
To help keep on top of the number of flu cases, El Dorado County has a system, FluWATCH, for school nurses to report influenza-like illness weekly to the Public Health Department.
“We also check in on a regular basis with Infection Control staff at both Marshall and Barton hospitals to see if they are impacted,” said Hartmann.
The state of California puts out a weekly summary of reported cases of influenza-like illness throughout the state. “It’s always a few weeks behind, but the Jan. 30 report stated there were nine deaths statewide for people under the age of 65 attributed to influenza,” said Hartmann.
Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Elderly people, infants, pregnant women and those with other health conditions are those most vulnerable to the flu.
Some flu victims have reported a lingering cough long after other symptoms of the flu have vanished.”It’s not unusual to have a persistant cough because the residual inflammation in the lungs can last for several weeks,” said Hartmann.
“The best prevention is still the vaccine,” said Dr. Hartmann. “Washing your hands frequently and trying to avoid close contact with sick people help, but the vaccine is still the best way.” As Amador County health officer, Hartman mandated all staff at licensed facilities to either receive the vaccination or wear masks to protect the public they work with. This year, he also mandated this for employees at all licensed facilities in El Dorado County as well.
“Marshall and Barton Hospital in South Lake Tahoe have over 90 percent of staff vaccinated. That’s outstanding since nationwide, the percentage of vaccinated health care workers is only about 66 percent,” said Hartmann. “It just shows how dedicated these two facilities are to protecting patients.”
“We’ve had flu salad this year — a real mix,” said Nina Deatherage, a Marshall Hospital registered nurse with 33 years of experience. “We’re finding that there is more than one strain of flu out there, but the flu vaccine this year covers three strains of the flu — two Flu A strains and one of the Flu B strains.”
“The symptoms are the same as every year and while it doesn’t seem to be as serious as it was a few years ago, we seem to have more cases.”
If you haven’t gotten the flu vaccine for this season, Hartmann said it’s not too late. “It takes about two weeks after immunization to build up antibodies to the flu so you are still vulnerable to the flu during that time, despite the vaccine,” said Hartmann. “El Dorado County Public Health Division continues to offer flu vaccines at a low cost at our clinic sites and there are number of pharmacies and healthcare providers who are still offering the flu vaccine in our community.”
If you already have the flu, there are some things you can do about it. Stay home for at least 24 hours. Cover your sneeze and/or cough effectively (nose into the crook of your elbow, not your hand) to prevent the spread of the flu. Call your medical provider as soon as possible and take antiviral medications as indicated if they are prescribed to you.
“In the hospital, we isolate patients with the flu for seven days,” said Deatherage. “At home, you should stay away from work and other people for about 5-7 days, but if you don’t have flu symptoms for 24 hours, you could go back to work.”
Deatherage advises flu sufferers to drink plenty of clear liquids, get plenty of rest and gargle with a 1:1 solution of warm water and salt for sore throats. “If you get the flu, you should also contact your physician to see if you are a candidate for anti-viral medications like Tamiflu which needs to be given in a certain time frame to be effective at lessening the symptoms,” Deatherage said.
“Washing your hands is important in prevention, but vaccination is still the best,” said Deatherage. “The end of March is usually considered the end of the flu season, so you still have time.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @WSchultzMtDemo.