Fighting the flu

Published 11:00 pm Friday, January 11, 2013

Flu season hits Pike County

Pike County feels impact as flu season ramps up

Dr. Lenny Nasca jokingly blamed the New Year’s kiss.

“It’s the holidays,” he said on Friday. “They spread it around … that New Year’s Kiss gets everybody”

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“It” is the influenza virus, and as an emergency room doctor at Troy Regional Medical Center, Nasca is well-versed in the fallout from all that holiday interact, which causes almost exponential exposure.

“Actually, we’re just hitting the month were we’re going to be busiest,” he said, taking a more serious tone. “This month and next month we’ll see rampant spread (of the virus.).”

That rampant spread has brought the flu virus to the forefront of national news. According to published reports on Friday, more than 47 states were reporting widespread flu outbreaks – with 24 of those states reporting very high levels of the disease. The flu outbreak began nearly a month early this year, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control, and is spreading rapidly as the traditional flu season gets under way.

The rampant spread is quickly evident in Nasca’s emergency room, where he said physicians and nurses are treating as many as 15 or 20 more patients per day with flu or flu-like symptoms. “Most of what we’re seeing is influenza type A,” he said. “The vaccine does work against it, and the Tamiflu does work to treat it.”

The influenza virus is split in to two different stands, each having a different biological makeup. According to the Center for Disease Control the Type A virus is accounting for 76 percent of the diagnosed cases.

Pike County’s first diagnosed case of the flu came during the week of December 2, 2012, and at least one confirmed diagnosis has occurred in the county every week since.

“We are not at a pandemic level like we had in 2009 with the H1N1 virus,” said Corey Kirkland, Administrator for the Pike County Health Department. “But we are definitely having a heavy flu season. There have been events like this in the past, and unfortunately it will probably run through the end of March.”

As the virus spreads and national news focuses on the outbreaks, more and more residents are seeking treatment and vaccinations now. Spot shortages of vaccinations were reported across the nation on Friday, and Troy was no exception.

“Flu shot demands have increased 10 fold,” said David Greer, pharmacist at Walgreens in Troy. “We were doing about one or two a day a few weeks ago, and now we are giving 10 or 12 each day. We ran out on Friday.”

Although the Walgreens pharmacy is currently our of the flu vaccinations, the Pike County Health Department has some in stock, and will shift vaccines around to accommodate the needs of the citizens.

The CDC reported that most of the 135 million vaccine doses manufactured this year have already been administered. Those who were vaccinated with this season’s flu shot were about 62 percent less likely to have to go to the doctor’s office for flu symptoms, the CDC says. It’s not too late to get inoculated, though it takes about two weeks for the effects to fully set in.

Greer said that the best time to get a flu shot is in the early part of the season in October, but did say that they can be administered at any time, although with varying results.

Shane Griffin, who was shopping for cold and flu medicine at CVS pharmacy on Friday, is one of those folks who has yet to get a flu shot. Griffin said his wife was sick earlier in the week and he was dealing with symptoms on Friday.

“My whole body has ached today,” said Griffin. “I haven’t had a flu shot, but it will probably be the first thing I do Monday morning.”

Both pharmacists and doctors say the vaccine will do little to prevent the onset of the flu if a person has been exposed or already contracted the virus.

“Getting a flu shot does not guarantee you won’t get sick,” Greer said. “And to a varying degree, getting a shot doesn’t mean you will either. If a person has already been exposed to the virus, they may get sick. The flu can be in your system for two or three days before you feel any symptoms.

As for whether folks are suffering from the flu or simply a nasty cold, Nasca offered this advice: “If it’s a cold, you just going to be hurting in your head, mostly from the neck up,” he said. “If your hurting from the neck down, with fever, aches or chills, you probably have the flu and need to be checked out.”

Nasca said most patients diagnosed with the flue are able to recover at home.

But some, such as the elderly or children with severe medical problems, are hospitalized. “I tell people if you’re young or in good health, you can treat it by alternating Tylenol and ibuprofen and drinking lots of fluids,” he said. “You may hurt for two or three days, but you’ll be OK.”

And even though supplies may be limited, Nasca encourages anyone who hasn’t received a flu shot to get one. “It takes two weeks for the vaccine to fully take effect, but we’re just ramping up for the next two months of flu season,” he said.

Outside of the medical impacts, some economists predict the flu outbreak to bog the struggling U.S. economy down further.

On average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost U.S. employers $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalization and outpatient visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but that number is expected to grow sharply this year.

Stacy Graning and the Associated Press contributed to this article.