Flu widespread: Get vaccine, wash hands to guard against flu

It is not too late for those who haven’t gotten the flu vaccine to get it, county health officials say.

The Auglaize County Health Department has no more adult vaccine, but has a couple hundred doses of the pediatric version of the vaccine for children ages 6-months to 18-years-old. The adult vaccine is still available at physicians’ offices and pharmacies in the county.

Nationally, flu, or influenza, activity is described as widespread — the highest classification by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only California and Mississippi (where flu activity is regional), the District of Columbia (with localized flu activity) and Hawaii (where flu activity is sporadic) are not included.

“The map doesn’t usually look like this,” Auglaize County Nursing Supervisor Cindy Jones said as she held up a map of the United States, which for the most part was all one color, symbolizing heavy flu activity throughout the country.

Back in December, she described the flu as having “exploded” in Auglaize County. Levels across the country then signified the earliest start to flu season in nearly a decade. Typically the flu doesn’t peak until the middle of winter.

Comparing charts from the 2011-12 to 2012-13 flu seasons, Jones said the latter is spiking high all the way across. She said Google searches about the flu are at 10,279, up from 2,500 such searches at the same time in 2012.

“That may well reflect people going in and searching if this is what they have, how to treat it, and where they can find the vaccine,” Jones said.

She said as county residents have grown concerned about the flu, more became interested in the vaccine, and the county Health Department used up the last of its supply for adults last week.

“It is not too late,” Jones said of those inquiring about getting a flu vaccine.

While there have been shortages of the vaccine in other parts of the country, Jones said that hasn’t been a problem here. The Health Department just used all that they pre-ordered and purchased.

“There is a very limited time of usage,” Jones said. “It’s use it or lose it. It’s an expensive loss so we have to look closely each year at what we think we will need.

“It’s hard because there are so many providers,” she said. “We are non-profit, so we don’t lose thousands of dollars if we don’t give more. We know evenings and weekends may work out better for some people. We don’t care where they get the vaccine, just so they get it.”

She said the problem with having so many manufacturers and providers means that some people put off getting the vaccine.

“Sometimes when people know they can get something any time, they put off doing it,” Jones said. “We have had a little more success getting people served if they know there is a specific time and window.”

The Health Department continues to administer the pediatric vaccine for $10, with no fee for the vaccine itself, and refuses no one for an inability to pay.

Like many others who already received the flu vaccine this year, Jones also has been down with an H1N1 version of the flu herself which almost required hospitalization.

“It is nasty this year,” Jones said. “It has made its way through the Health Department and employees’ families.”

Flu symptoms to be on the lookout for include, fever of 100 degrees or higher, headache, cough or sore throat, and fatigue. Different than a cold, influenza typically comes on suddenly and lasts between a few days and two weeks. The flu can make chronic health problems worse and develop into complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections, according to the CDC.

Jones said those who get the flu this year may not have the typical body aches and sore throat. Some may have a long lasting cough.

She recommended that anyone with symptoms, from no other obvious known cause, should get checked.

The county is monitoring flu activity here through Auglaize Family Practice, which screens and tests anyone coming in with influenza-like symptoms, through medication sales (which have been “off the wall”), and by tracking positive tests in the Grand Lake Physician offices and outpatient and urgent care facilities.

The majority of those tested have had four different strains of the flu virus, three of which are the three strains of the flu contained in this year’s vaccine. The fourth strain is expected to be added to the vaccine as well next year, Jones said.

“What we are seeing is the hospitalization of people 60 and over with co-morbid conditions,” Jones said. “Half were immunized and half weren’t.”

Those with co-morbid conditions qualified for early vaccination.

Earlier in the season, the flu was impacting more children. Now it seems to be hitting the middle-aged population that doesn’t have co-morbid conditions.

“Even without those it takes its toll,” Jones said.

She said taking precautions to prevent the spread of illness is paramount.

“Wash hands,” Jones said. “Most particles from a cough don’t go more than 3 or 4 feet. You’re more likely to pick up germs by touching a doorknob and then touching your face.

“Keep your hands clean and keep them away from your face,” she said. “Most of the time that’s how it enters your body.”