By CHERIL VERNON
Flu season appears to be in full swing as local doctors’ offices and the hospital are seeing more people with flu-like symptoms in the last few weeks.
“As it is in the whole country, it’s especially bad here. We’ve seen more cases of the flu now than we’ve see all year and the last several years,” said Dean French, M.D., with East Texas Family Medicine in Palestine. “The virus is especially viral this year and seems to have spread since the Christmas holidays. Even though the flu vaccine is not as effective this year as it has been in the past, we are still recommending people get the flu vaccine if they haven’t had one this year, as we are still not at the peak of the flu season.”
Symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, chills, runny nose, congestion, coughing, scratchy throat, headache, fatigue and in some cases, nausea and vomiting.
“It takes a couple of weeks for the flu vaccines to have maximal effect,” French said. “Those who think they have the flu need to be sure to see their doctor. There is medication that can help the flu symptoms if they get seen early in the course of the disease and it may even prevent other family members from getting it.”
Besides the flu treatment medicine Tamiflu®, French said the symptoms also can be treated in addition with Tylenol®, Motrin® or cold medications as needed.
“Drink a lot of fluids and stay well hydrated while you have the flu,” French said.
The elderly and young children are especially susceptible to complications of the flu — including pneumonia and other bacterial infections.
“The flu has been lasting most people about four to seven days. The incubation period is usually two to three days. Most adults can infect each other one day before you even have symptoms and up to five to seven days after you get sick — that’s why it’s so contagious,” French said.
The No. 1 prevention for preventing the flu is to wash your hands frequently.
“Don’t get too close to anybody coughing — and if you have to cough — cough into your arm not into your hands,” French said.
Palestine Regional Medical Center’s Infection Prevention and Employee Health nurse, Toby Johnson, also is reporting an increase of Influenza A and B. The number of cases increased from six in November to a total of 27 cases in December, representing a 45 percent increase in reportable flu events.
PRMC Emergency Department Director Shilite Edwards says there is currently a shortage of test kits for the flu.
“All patients who come to the ER with flu symptoms are not necessarily tested for the flu but treated for the flu based on their symptoms alone,” Edwards said. “Many physician offices have already started this practice. If you have the symptoms, you probably have the flu.”
Young children, those who are severely ill, and those who have severely weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer than five to seven days, Edwards said.
PRMC Chief Financial Clinical Officer Christi Watkins said the hospital is taking the flu season very seriously.
“We will do everything possible to keep our employees well and our patients protected,” Watkins said. “Children and the elderly are at the highest risk for contacting the flu. Remember, the best defense is still the flu shot. Wash your hands often and carry disinfectant gel with you at all times.”
A Walgreen’s pharmacy employee told the Herald-Press the pharmacy had a good amount of Tamiflu® available as of Friday.