Flu bug hits area
Published: Thursday, January 17th, 2013
The early flu season has been a hot topic across the nation and is being estimated as the largest and earliest influenza outbreak in a decade. Custer County may not be in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean the bug isn’t here.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Region 8 (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming) reported all its jurisdictions as infected, qualifying it as “regionally infected,” which means the region has a high influx of influenza cases and is more widespread, largely due to local and regional travel. Between the six states, 30.3 percent of the population is currently infected with some strain of the flu — which is 4.1 percent higher than the previous week and 16.2 percent higher than the previous month.
“It’s highly transmissible by contact,” said Dr. Joleen Falkenburg at Custer Clinic. “It can be from touching door knobs or handles on carts then touching your mouth or face. In comparison to other viruses, the flu stays alive a while and spreads rapidly.”
According to Falkenburg, many of the patients she has seen have had influenza type A.
“Type A seems to be the strand going around the community,” she says. “The majority of patients I have been seeing are young and school-aged kids.”
Influenza Type A has a wide range of symptoms, including runny nose, sore throat, aching body or muscles, high fever and fatigue. Treatment for this strain of influenza usually involves an antiviral medication to reduce its severity, such as Tamiflu or Relenza.
“I’m cautious about overusing Tamiflu so we can preserve the efficiency of the medication,” Falkenburg said. “If people have flu-like symptoms, the first thing they should do is head to the supermarket.”
Falkenburg suggests taking Motrin or another type of Ibuprofen to help with body aches and Mucinex and other decongestants to help with mucus build-up.
“I wouldn’t rush into the doctor if it can be taken care of over the counter,” Falkenburg said. “If you’re not getting better after a couple days, then make a doctor’s appointment.”
“Over-the-counter prescriptions will help with the symptoms,” said John Carson, owner of Carson Drug in Custer. “Depending on the virus, doctors could prescribe Tamiflu or another antiviral.”
The South Dakota Department of Health has confirmed 469 flu cases and 135 flu-related hospitalizations this season, which may surpass last year’s total of 505. While the flu season begins in October and generally peaks in February, Falkenburg thinks the season in Custer County has hit its peak and will be making its way out.
“My first patient with influenza was in November, which is earlier than usual. At the walk-in clinic, we’ve seen about 10 people a day with the flu,” she said. “I think we’re hitting the peak of the season and the flu will be on its way out.”
While the flu may be on its way out, Falkenburg encourages people to get vaccinated to prevent other and future strains of flu.
“It can still help,” she said. “Two years ago when H1N1 was spreading, we saw a younger crowd infected since many people were vaccinated for that strain in the ’80s. H1N1 was very different from what we’re seeing and would probably see that only every 10 years.”
For the 2012-13 season, manufacturers projected they would produce 135 million doses of flu vaccine.
“It’s important to understand that with the vaccination, you have that immunity the rest of your life. You’re protected,” Falkenburg said.
Besides vaccination, Falkenburg encourages people to practice good hand washing, especially before meals, and try to avoid coughing in hands and touching objects.
“Some bulk up on Vitamin C and other preventatives they say that may help, but if you get the bug, you’re going to get it,” Falkenburg said. “The flu has been around since the dawn of man.
“I don’t want patients to be discouraged by the things they hear about getting sick after vaccinations,” Falkenburg added. “It’s not a live vaccine, but it does have a response for symptoms of feeling feverish or achy.”
“The best thing to get is a flu shot,” Carson said. “It used to be just for babies, kids and seniors, but the target groups and patient groups have expanded since.”
Patients who should be vaccinated are youth, the elderly, those with diabetes and other breathing conditions and patients taking chemotherapy.
“We encourage those with diseases to get vaccinated, as well as children under 5 since they don’t control their secretions very well and can spread the flu rampantly,” Falkenburg said. “If someone is more susceptible to be quite ill and have viral pneumonia, they should definitely be vaccinated.
“Chemotherapeutic patients are more likely to get the flu since their body is not functioning well. Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or asthma can get sick as well or have respiratory complications,” she added.
There have been nine flu-related deaths in South Dakota, all of them over the age of 75.
A couple weeks ago, the Regional Health hospital in Sturgis shut down some areas of the hospital since patients and visitors were getting sick with the flu. While there were no deaths, there were many hospitalizations.
Other parts of the nation, such as Boston, haven’t been so lucky.
Last week, Boston declared a public health emergency after over 700 cases were reported in the city and 18 flu-related deaths were confirmed across the state of Massachusetts. Twenty-nine other states also reported high levels of influenza.
“I think people are scared of influenza,” Falkenburg said. “We see it every year. It’s a season; it hits late fall and winter no matter what. Just be prepared, take care of yourself and we’re here to help.”
Click Here To See More Stories Like This