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Northern Blair battles bug

Northern Blair has not been spared when it comes to the unusually early and harsh flu season this year. But, things here may not be as bad as other parts of the country and the state.
“The last few days we have seen some additional activity in the emergency department as individuals have been coming in for flu shots,” said Sandra Snyder, director of nursing at Tyrone Hospital. “We have certainly seen more children coming in for the flu shots than we have in past years.”
The emergency department has been administering the flu shots, but Snyder indicated the hospital has a limited supply of the flu vaccine available.
Overall, the hospital has not seen an unusual influx of inpatients because of the flu this season.
“We have seen a marked increase in the amount of antibiotic use,” said Peter Kreckel, the pharmacist at Kopp Drugs in Tyrone.
Kreckel said such an increase is typical this time of year. He said people start getting sick right after Thanksgiving.
“Generally this is when most people exchange their germs,” explained Kreckel.
Apparently what happens is people traveling out of state pick up germs or those visiting the area will leave germs behind. Local residents may not have any resistance to those particular germs.
“The weather changing frequently seems to precipitate more respiratory problems,” according to Kreckel.
He pointed out antibiotics kill bacteria, but the flu is a virus. So why the increase in prescriptions?
Kreckel explained doctors prescribe antibiotics to prevent respiratory infections or pneumonia. The flu can knock down a person’s immune system. This would leave them susceptible to infections. In the worst case scenario, even death can result.
“The last two weeks, phone-in prescriptions have skyrocketed. If a person has had the flu for a week we refer them to a physician,” said Kreckel.
“The flu without complications should run its course in 10 to 14 days, a cold usually last only about four or five days, a week at the most,” the pharmacist told The Daily Herald while detailing some of the differences between a cold and influenza.
Cold symptoms include nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat, chest congestion and a mild cough.
Flu symptoms include fever, headache, muscle/joint aches and pains, fatigue, chest congestion and possible severe coughing.
Below are some details regarding the flu outbreak from a national perspective as reported by the Associated Press today:
Hundreds of people lined up outside a Florida mall for free flu shots early Friday after government officials announced that the flu had spread to all 50 states, nearly half of those considered hit hard by the illness.
Shivering in coats and under blankets outside the West Oaks Mall in Ocoee, Fla., near Orlando, 300 to 400 people waited for a shot at the remaining free flu vaccines there, even though the flu is not considered widespread in that state. In Albany, N.Y., and elsewhere, health departments and doctors’ offices have been so swamped with people looking for a flu vaccine some have exhausted their supplies.
“I think what we’re seeing is a natural response to concerns about a serious flu season,” Centers for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding said Friday on NBC’s “Today” show. “But we also need to remember that for almost everyone, flu is not such a serious disease.
“We don’t need to panic or assume that the worst case scenario is going to happen to everyone. Most of us will get through this fine.”
The government announced Thursday that it is scrambling to ship 100,000 adult vaccine doses to combat the shortages, hoping to head off what could become one of the worst flu outbreaks in years, and 150,000 child vaccines are expected in January.
The number of states with widespread infections has nearly doubled to 24 in the past week, and the season has not yet peaked nationally, the CDC said Thursday. Worried parents are rushing to find shots even though many clinics are out or about to run out of the vaccine.
“I really was desperate,” said Joy Thompson of Valencia, Calif., who found 300 people waiting to get the vaccine at her daughters’ pediatrician’s office and couldn’t endure the three-hour line. She later got the vaccine from her mother, who is a nurse.
Schools have shut down. Emergency rooms have been filled with sick children. And doctors’ offices have been forced to turn away droves of people seeking flu shots.
Some experts predict this year’s death toll easily could surpass the annual average of 36,000.
Health officials are unsure why the outbreak has hit so early, why it has caused so many problems and why it seems to be so lethal in children.
States are not required to track the number of flu cases, so the exact total is not clear; at least 20 children have died nationwide during this outbreak.
Many cases are never classified as the flu, but doctors say they are seeing a clear increase this year.
“If it were me, I’d be on the phone to your doctor, calling around to see if you could find some” vaccine, said Dr. Randall Todd, Nevada’s epidemiologist.
The nation’s two producers of flu shots reported last week that they had shipped their entire supply of about 80 million doses. However, Aventis Pasteur had set aside 250,000 doses at the CDC’s request last week when it became clear that shortages might develop. Those are the doses being shipped now.
Bianka Ortega, receptionist for After Hours Pediatrics in Las Vegas, has been turning away frustrated parents. The office does have flu vaccines left, but they are reserved for poor patients.
She said parents have been getting “a little bit irate.”
Gerberding said the center is recommending doctors give high-risk groups top priority for shots. That means the elderly, children under 2, those with chronic medical conditions, and women in the second and third trimester of pregnancy.
In Colorado, the good news is that the outbreak appears to be on its way out.
“We were certainly inundated with tons of patients” in the last few weeks, said Allison Hamm, spokeswoman for Denver Health Medical Center. “It has certainly slowed down significantly.”
One of the hardest hit communities was Malad, Idaho, a town of about 2,000 people near the Utah state line that virtually shut down in the past week because so many people were ill. Church services and Christmas programs were canceled, as was the wrestling match and drill team show. Even Santa had to postpone his visit with the children.
The CDC said it is unable to know how many children typically die of the flu each year, making it unclear whether this is in fact a particularly lethal outbreak for youngsters.
Anecdotally, this flu season seems to be worse for children, and the CDC plans to watch flu complications among them closely. Flu and its complications are the sixth-leading cause of death nationally among children age 4 and younger, according to the CDC.
Despite the severity of the early outbreak, health experts are not ready to predict just how bad the flu season will be. The season still may peak as early as December, rather than February, which is the norm.
On Thursday, the CDC added Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia to the list of states with widespread flu activity.
Last week, only Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming were on that list.
As for why the West is having the most cases, experts aren’t sure.
“I don’t have an explanation,” said Lisa Jackson, an epidemiologist with the University of Washington. “I don’t know if that’s just a chance thing or what’s going on this year.”
More details regarding the flu outbreak can be found on the Internet: CDC flu info: www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivity.htm
(Associated Press writer Angie Wagner contributed to this article.)