Printed on: September 25, 2013

Shot time

Flu is already in the air

By CODY McDEVITT
cmcdevitt@postregister.com

Local health care providers already are seeing patients with flulike symptoms.

Such reports are ahead of last year's schedule, when flu season didn't officially get underway until Sept. 30.

"You never know with the flu season whether it's going to be a strong campaign with a lot (of flu cases)," said James Corbett, a registered nurse and immunization coordinator for the Eastern Idaho Public Health District in Idaho Falls. "We've already heard reports of people coming in and getting tested for flulike symptoms."

Flu signs and symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, cough, sore throat and a runny nose. The illness primarily affects the respiratory system.

The best method of protecting yourself from the flu is to get the vaccine, which is now available. Those with holiday travel plans that involve airline flights and close interaction with crowds are urged to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of contracting the flu.

"If you're flying, going on a trip, going home for the holidays, if you're going off to school, if you're going to be going to those areas, it's best to get protected first by the influenza vaccine," Corbett said.

The vaccine usually takes 10 to 14 days to become effective.

In the past, the vaccine included three strains of flu viruses. But this year, it will help build antibodies against four strains.

A common misconception, Corbett said, is that people develop the flu from getting the vaccine. While that is not true, he did say those who receive the vaccine can develop flulike symptoms.

Corbett urges everyone to get the vaccine, especially older people and children, who are more at risk for contracting the flu than others.

Laura Coryell, a physician assistant at Idaho Falls Pediatrics, said "children do not typically have the immunity adults do and do not make antibodies until exposed to the disease or vaccine."

Coryell said the most common complication of the flu in children is an ear infection, followed by asthma exacerbation. She said asthma, a weakened immune system, other upper respiratory diseases and heart conditions are more likely to make the flu severe for children.

Official figures for last year's flu season are expected Thursday, but Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave some information about the 2012-13 flu season.

Last year's season ran from Sept. 30 to May 18.

"We saw a moderately severe number of outpatient visits for influenzalike symptoms. There was a higher rate of hospitalization," McDonald said. "There were more reported deaths because of pneumonia and influenza as compared with recent years."

The strains included in any year's vaccine are based on recommendations from the CDC and the World Health Organization. Those organizations collect data through worldwide surveillance.

"Flu season is different in every part of the globe," he said. "The flu season before ours is in the Southern Hemisphere. What we do is surveillance, mainly lab testing with people who are sick with the flu. We see what's circulating."

Reporter Cody McDevitt can be reached at 542-6751