One of those statistics comes locally from SkyRidge Medical Center. The major advice is to get a flu shot.
Since December, SkyRidge has seen more than 250 confirmed cases of influenza and those numbers continue to rise.
There is a test than can be given to verify if one has the flu, but its accuracy is scored at around 60 to 65 percent according to Dr. J. Madison Torrence, SkyRidge Emergency Center medical director.
“If you have a patient who comes in and very clearly has the flu, some providers will not test them,” Torrence said.
He also added some insurance carriers will not allow prescriptions for anti-viral medications such as TamiFlu if they do not have a positive influenza case.
“It’s ironic since the test is only 65 percent sensitive,” Torrence said.
He said 2009 was a very bad year with the total number of cases and deaths associated with that year’s strain.
“I don’t think this year is going to reach that so I don’t know we’re more sensitive [to seeing some of the symptoms], but maybe some of the lingering thoughts of that year may still be with us,” Torrence said.
He said one of things doctors are seeing is this year’s strain is having more affect on young adults and the middle age categories.
“You normally don’t worry as much about those,” he said. “We worry about the elderly and the really young infants. This year, what we see is the young and the elderly are having mild illnesses. People who are in the middle category come in quite ill.”
He said it is unfortunate those age brackets are the ones who are not getting the vaccine.
“They think I’m young and healthy. They make sure their 1-year-old gets vaccinated and their grandparents get it, but they don’t,” Torrence said. “That’s not very smart.”
Torrence said it is a tough call when to see a physician, because some of the symptoms of the flu can mirror a common cold.
“The problem is if you wait and are sick more than 48 hours, the medication is not as effective. The Centers for Disease Control says not to give it because it’s just a waste of time,” he said.
He said most people who have the flu can run a higher than normal fever, body aches and a sore throat.
“With the common cold or sinus infections, I don’t think you get that true ‘hurt all over’ feeling,” Torrence said. “Those people need to get tested in 48 hours and the earlier the better.”
Christina Lassila, SkyRidge director of emergency services, said the hospital is seeing quite a few flu patients on a daily basis.
“But, I think it has gone down significantly,” Lassila said.
Torrence and Lassila emphasized the importance of getting the flu vaccine.
“Influenza will continue to circulate through the late spring,” Torrence said. “The vaccine is also cheap these days.”
Lassila said there are many resources available to help provide the vaccine to anyone who wants to get the protection.
“Almost any pharmacy as well as the health department also provide the service,” Lassila said.
Torrence said prevention is the key word.
“I just think there are so many myths out there about taking the vaccine,” Torrence said. “The flu vaccine does not cause the flu.”
He said that is the most common myth about the shots.
“When they have done studies with those who have taken the vaccine and those who have been given placebos, the only side effects have been at the injection sites — some warmth and a little pain,” Torrence said.
He said for those who have related the experience of getting a shot and then getting the flu there are several ways that could be true.
“It takes the vaccine two weeks to work. If you get the shot and then get exposed within that time frame ... that is how it might happen,” Torrence said. “The reason you may be getting the vaccine is because a co-worker had the flu. In that case, you have already been exposed.”
He said people need to know there is no shortage of the vaccine.
“Hand-washing is also very, very important and be sure to cover any coughs,” Torrence said.
Another important point is when you feel ill, isolate yourself.
“If you must come in contact with others, wear a mask because that’s how it is spread,” he said. “You need to stay away from schools and the stores.”
Lassilla said the best advice for taking the vaccine is for everyone who is at least 6 months of age to get an annual flu shot, particularly those who are at high risk of flu complications.
“People at high risk for developing serious complications include children younger than 5 years old, adults over 65, pregnant women and individuals with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease whose conditions may worsen if they get sick from influenza,” Lassila said.