Flu Bug Biting Hard

January 13, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Michiko Martin

Health officials in DeKalb County are urging more people to get vaccinations for the flu after at least 12 people in Middle Tennessee have died from complications of the virus so far this season.

Nine people from Nashville and its surrounding counties have died while three deaths have been reported in the Upper Cumberland region.

Free vaccines are currently available at the DeKalb County Health Department. Anyone interested should call in advance at 597-7590. Flu vaccines are also available for a fee at local pharmacies. The Family Medical Center currently has a few of the FluMist still available.

More than three hundred fifty people have been tested for the flu at the Family Medical Center and almost one hundred cases have been confirmed, according to Office Manager Michiko Martin in a statement released to WJLE Monday. "Since October 1st, we have performed 352 flu tests. Eighty five have been positive for Type A and 13 have been positive for Type B. But, there have been others who have tested negative, yet had all of the symptoms of the flu, and they were treated accordingly," said Martin.

If you think you have the flu, Martin urges you to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. "Most insurances require a positive flu test before they will pay for Tamiflu and it (Tamiflu) is only effective if given within 48 hours of onset of symptoms," she said.

Martin offers some tips to help you guard against the flu virus. "The best thing you can do to prevent the flu is to: (1) Get a flu vaccine when available (it takes up to 2 weeks to get into your system); (2) have good hand washing practices; (3) cover coughs and sneezes (use tissues or masks, if available); and (4) avoid crowded situations".

"We highly advocate getting the flu vaccine," said Martin. "People die from the flu not the vaccine. You cannot get sick from the vaccine; it is a dead virus. If someone gets sick after having the vaccine, then they had already been exposed to the flu (it takes 2 weeks to get into your system). The FluMist is a live-attenuated virus (which means that you can have some mild flu-like symptoms), but it is only given to healthy individuals 2 – 49 years of age. There are vaccines designed for the very young (6 months) and the elderly (65+). There are traditional vaccines which cover 3 strains of the flu virus and the newer quadrivalent vaccine which covers 4 strains. There is the FluMist for healthy individuals that do not like shots. There is also an intradermal version that is given much like a TB skin test (right under the skin). We currently have a few doses of FluMist available. We have given over 4200 flu vaccines this year. We started giving them as soon as they came in, but were not able to give them to Medicare patients until October 1 because Medicare would not pay for the vaccine until then. Most insurances will cover the vaccine, but people may have to check their individual coverages to know for sure," said Martin.

The predominant flu virus in circulation this year is H1N1, which first emerged in 2009. In Tennessee, 15 deaths among people younger than 18 occurred during the 2009-10 season, which compares with two or three deaths during a typical flu season, state health officials have said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months or older, with rare exceptions, should get vaccinated for the flu.

Influenza Symptoms
Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

•Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
•Cough
•Sore throat
•Runny or stuffy nose
•Muscle or body aches
•Headaches
•Fatigue (tiredness)
•Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

* It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Flu Complications
Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.
Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

People at Higher Risk from Flu
Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to flu can happen at any age, but some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.

Flu Severity
Flu is unpredictable and how severe it is can vary widely from one season to the next depending on many things, including:
•what flu viruses are spreading,
•how much flu vaccine is available,
•when vaccine is available,
•how many people get vaccinated, and
•how well the flu vaccine is matched to flu viruses that are causing illness.
•Person to Person
•People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

•To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick. It also is important to wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill.

•The Flu Is Contagious
•Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.

Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.

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