Flu season hits Nevada County hard, early | SierraSun.com

Flu season hits Nevada County hard, early

Liz Kellar
lizk@theunion.com

All around Nevada County, it seems, everyone has been battling the flu — or, as one woman sarcastically referred to it, the plague.

“It’s literally like being hit by a truck — can’t get out of bed, can’t stay awake, can’t eat,” said Amanda Gray-Bonham, whose son had it first.

Others reported the flu spreading through their families as well.

“Never felt so sick in the entire world,” said Jennifer Potter Ham. “Sent my dad for more cough drops and there were only three bags left at the store that day. We have eight people in our home right now and it has hit all of us.”

 Kala Davis was succinct, noting simply, “I’m currently still dying.”

They’re not alone in their misery. If everyone around you seems to have been battling the flu for weeks now, you’re not imagining things.

“The flu is definitely on the rise,” said Dr. Ken Cutler, Nevada County’s Public Health Officer.

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Influenza typically peaks in January, after the holidays, and hit Nevada County a couple of weeks early this year, he said, adding, “The hospital and clinics are seeing more flu — they’re busy.”

Staff at Yuba Docs and at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital confirmed the jump in patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms, with the hospital reporting much higher numbers than usual being seen in the emergency room and being admitted.

JUMP IN PATIENTS

In the most recent 24-hour period, the emergency room saw 114 people, compared to a typical day of 80 to 100 patients, said Dr. Jeffrey Rosenburg, Sierra Nevada Memorial’s chief medical officer.

The hospital also was reporting approximately 80 admitted patients, when the number is usually around 50-60, he said.

“That’s very high for us,” Rosenburg said. “Many of those are flu-related.”

Of the 80 patients admitted to the hospital, 25 tested positive for flu; he added, however, there could be more whose flu was not identified by the test.

Those numbers are borne out by county statistics. Right now, Cutler said, about 35 percent of the patients in the county presenting with flu symptoms are testing positive for the flu; the others likely have some other type of virus.

“It can be hard to tell the difference,” Cutler said, adding that if you have a higher fever, more muscle aches, a cough and a sore throat, that’s probably the flu. Vomiting and diarrhea typically are not related to the flu; vomiting can occur but that is not usually the dominant symptom, he said.

The county will have a better idea of numbers afflicted at the end of flu season, Cutler said. The flu often is not reported to authorities unless it is a severe case that sends the patient to intensive care or results in death; so far this year, there have been very few reports of severe cases and no reported deaths in patients younger than 65.

When labs have characterized the flu strain being seen this year, the dominant strain is H3N2 (a subtype of Influenza A), Cutler said.

“In prior years, that strain hit the elderly and the very young, and particularly the elderly, quite hard,” he said.

VACCINE CAN HELP

Cutler’s advice, and that of other medical professionals: Get vaccinated.

“If you haven’t had the vaccine, it’s not too late,” he said, noting that the flu season will last into the spring.

Last year, Cutler said, the dominant strain of flu also was H3N2, and the efficacy was about 30 percent — meaning that you were 30 percent less likely to have to seek medical treatment if you were vaccinated.

“The efficacy was not as high as we would want, but it still provides some protection,” he said.

Cutler noted that flu strains can change during the season, and the vaccine will protect against several strains.

Other than vaccination, measures to avoid the flu include every-day preventive actions like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing. Good nutrition and getting enough sleep also will help, he said.

And, Cutler and Rosenburg noted, it’s important not to touch your nose or mouth — because the virus is spread by water droplets.

“It’s very important to talk to your physicians about your symptoms,” Cutler said, particularly for the elderly, the very young or those with underlying medical conditions. At-risk groups can potentially opt for anti-viral medications.

“If you do have the flu, try to avoid close contact with people,” Rosenburg said. “Stay hydrated. And take antipyretic (fever-reducing) agents like Tylenol and ibuprofen.”

FLU OR COLD?

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly, not gradually:

• Fever or feeling feverish/chills, usually 102 degrees, but can go up to 104 and usually lasts three to four days

• Cough, can become severe

• Muscle or body aches, often severe

• Headaches, sudden onset and can be severe

• Fatigue, can be severe, can last two or more weeks

• Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults