2012-13 Flu Season Underway in Erie County

Cover your cough.  Avoid anyone who is coughing.  Wash your hands frequently.  Those are three things you can do to lessen your chances of getting the flu.   

But, the best line of defense? Get a flu shot!  And it’s not too late.  

“The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to provide full protection from the flu and I expect this season will continue for several weeks and well over a month,” said Howard Nadworny, MD, chief of Saint Vincent Infectious Diseases.  

More than 30 patients have been hospitalized at Saint Vincent Health Center since mid December for health complications due to the flu. The Erie County Health Department has also reported nearly 300 cases of influenza so far this season. By comparison, the Health Department had a total of just 55 reported cases during the entire 2011-2012 influenza season.  

Flu season typically starts in January, but Saint Vincent physicians have been treating cases since mid December making this season one of the worst on record so far.   

“There is no telling how long or how severe this season will become,” according to Nadworny. “We are still seeing an increase in the number of cases each day and we won’t really know when it will peak at this point.”  

The Saint Vincent Emergency Department has also received an increasing number of patients suffering from the flu.  ER physicians advise residents to first call their primary care physician who may be able to prescribe Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that can help to lessen the symptoms and severity of the flu.  However, those with high fevers, signs of dehydration or extreme illness should seek emergency care.  

“Prevention is still always better than treatment,” said Nadworny.  “You have to consider that getting a flu shot not only protects the individual but it also protects those around you.  Consider the very young and the elderly folks around you because for them, the flu can be a very serious disease and even deadly.”  

The infectious disease expert adds that this year’s vaccine is effective against this year’s flu strain. So, getting a flu shot remains your best defense.  

Flu symptoms include:
A 100oF or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
A cough and/or sore throat
A runny or stuffy nose Headaches and/or body aches
Chills Fatigue Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

When should I seek emergency medical attention?
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Sudden dizziness
Severe or persistent vomiting
Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough  

Do I have the flu or a cold?
The flu and the common cold have similar symptoms. It can be difficult to tell the difference between them. Your health care provider can give you a test within the first few days of your illness to determine whether or not you have the flu.  

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold. Symptoms such as fever, body aches, tiredness, and cough are more common and intense with the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.      

For more information, call Saint Vincent Ask A Nurse at (814) 452-5500 or toll-free, 1-800-326-8080