|December 20, 2012
Flu season has arrived earlier than normal
By B.L. Azure
THHS Public Information Office
• Influenza (flu) is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness that, at times, can lead to death. Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu.
• Signs and symptoms: fever and chills, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headaches, fatigue, and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea.
• The flu virus spreads mainly by droplets or mists made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. In can also spread by people touching surfaces or objects that have the flu virus on them and then touching their own mouth, eyes and nose.
• People can pass on the flu before they know they have the virus or show symptoms as well as up to a week after the symptoms have manifested.
• Flu strains and severity are unpredictable from one season to another depending upon, among other things: the type of flu virus spreading; how much and when vaccine is available; how widespread the vaccination effort is; and, how well the available flu vaccine matches the flu virus strains causing the illness.
• Flu seasons are unpredictable as is their severity.
• Complications of flu can include: bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
• Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
• To learn more about flu or other health and disease related issues visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit website: www.cdc.gov
ST. IGNATIUS — ‘Tis the season of giving, and for those who want to self-give, probably the best present a person can get them selves this holiday season is a flu shot. It’s a momentary sting that will pay off well after the sting is gone. This year, the sooner the sting the better because the flu season has arrived a couple of months earlier than normal.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its weekly surveillance report published Nov. 30, noted that cases of the flu were reported in 48 states — including Montana — as well as the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The CDC characterized the widespread early onset as a “wake-up call” and advised people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“We are starting to see diagnosis of the flu here (Flathead Indian Reservation),” said Barb Plouffe, THHS Community Health Division manager. “We generally don’t see many cases until January and February. There is really no rhyme or reason to the onset.”
Plouffe said that there weren’t any new and/or especially virulent strains of flu affecting people this flu season. However, no matter the strain — and dependent upon a person’s health and age — flu can be fatal. She said that there are three different flu strains this year.
According to the CDC approximately up to 200,000 people in the United States can be hospitalized each year, depending upon the severity of the flu strain. Each flu season between 3,000 and 49,000 people die as a result of flu and related complications. Internationally three to five million people get the flu virus that results in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths.
The high risk population sectors include young children, people 65 years and older, and pregnant women as well as people of all ages with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
Tribal Health and Human Services Community Health Division received a couple thousand doses of the flu vaccine this season. The CDC has distributed 120 million doses of the flu vaccine throughout the nation this season.
Plouffe said the THHS clinics and the Community Health staff still have vaccine doses available. She advised calling the Community Health staff offices ahead to ensure that a nurse is in, as many of them work in the field. Although they do work in the field, she said that people should come to the clinics for the vaccinations.
There is no flu vaccine available for children under six months of age, Plouffe said. “We strongly encourage the parents or guardians or family members of children under six months to get vaccinated,” she said. “That is the best way to prevent the flu spreading to the very young.”
Besides the vaccine, Plouffe said simple precautionary habits add weight to the prevention and/or spread of flu.
“People should wash their hands, cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze, and stay home when sick,” she said.
Plouffe also advised that adults stay current on their DTP (diptheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccination.
According to Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the federal CDC, the CDC has the appropriate vaccine matches for the flu strains that have surfaced this flu season.
“Of the doctors who are submitting specimens that we look at to see which strains of flu are spreading, about 90 percent are very well matched with this year’s flu vaccine,” Frieden said. At the beginning of each year the CDC begins the process of developing flu vaccines to combat the predominant identified strains that have surfaced or predicted to surface.
“Influenza is a serious disease,” Frieden said. “It causes a couple hundred thousand hospitalizations a year and thousand of deaths.”
There have been three flu pandemics (worldwide epidemics) in the 20th century. In 1918-1919 the Spanish Flu resulted in 40 million deaths worldwide. In 1957-1958 two million lives were lost as a result of the Asian Flu. In 1968 the Hong Kong Flu claimed the lives of one million people.
Frieden as well as Plouffe advised getting vaccinated as soon as possible due to the earlier-than-normal onset of the flu season — the earliest onset since the severe 2003-2004 season.
“We’ve seen an increase in flu that’s over the threshold that suggest that the flu season has started,” Frieden said, adding that nationally 2.2 percent of clinical visits are flu or flu related. “This is the earliest regular flu season we’ve had in nearly a decade… and while flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as well as the specific strains we’re seeing suggest that this could be a bad flu year.”
Frieden said there is a caveat that will rein in the severity of the season a bit.
“Overall, what we’ve seen over the past several years is an increase in flu vaccination rates, including among children, among pregnant women and among health care workers — three key groups we look at because they are so important to spread of flu,” he said, adding that despite the gains more are needed. “In summary, flu activity is up, vaccine is the best tool to protect against flu. The vaccine is widely available.”
Tribal Health clinic phone numbers: Arlee – 726-3224; Elmo – 849-5798; Polson – 883-5541; St. Ignatius – 745-3525; And Ronan – 676-8778. Folks in Hot Springs can call 741-3266.
To learn more about flu or other health and disease related issues visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit website: www.cdc.gov