Brace for new wave of flu bug

Flu activity in Jackson County seems to be dropping off for now, but local health officials said a second round could hit soon.

Schneck Medical Center in Seymour continues to limit patient visitation to keep people from contracting and spreading the virus.

And the Jackson County Health Department encourages people to get a flu vaccination.

Anita Root, infection preventionist at Schneck, said generally there is a second peak of illness seen during influenza season, which typically runs from December to March.

“We’re hoping that’s not the case, but that’s what we’re preparing for,” Root said. “The flu is just so unpredictable, so there is always the possibility it can come back.”

While most cases seen locally so far have been the H3N2 strain, Root said the next round might be different.

The hospital recorded 34 positive rapid flu tests during the last full week of December, the highest number this season. Last week, the number had dropped to six.

“It has peaked for us,” Root said. “The number of positive rapid tests has come down significantly, so we’re just not seeing as much flu as we were.”

She hopes the worst is over, but people should still be on the lookout for flu symptoms in themselves and family members and take appropriate measures to protect others, she said.

Flu symptoms include fever, chills, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, headache and a runny or stuffy nose.

“Sometimes in children, you will see vomiting and diarrhea, but that’s not as common,” she said.

Seymour Community Schools nurse Sherry Reinhart said the flu doesn’t seem to be causing much of an attendance problem right now.

“I think before Christmas break, we had more actual confirmed flu cases,” she said. “We’re still seeing some, but not as much.”

Most reported absences from school are not because of the flu, she added.

She is keeping her fingers crossed that another wave of the illness isn’t on the way.

“We are still encouraging students and faculty to use all the preventative measures, such as washing their hands frequently, coughing into their sleeve instead of their hands and not touching their eyes, nose or mouth,” she said.

Antiviral medication such as Tamiflu is available to help decrease the length and severity of the flu, but it must be administered early on to be effective, Root said.

“People should get checked out as soon as possible,” she said.

Since having the flu is not usually considered an emergency, patients should contact their primary health care provider first.

The hospital, though, has treated dozens of flu patients in the emergency room after hours, Root said.

Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator for the county health department, said with plenty of flu vaccine available, including a nasal mist for children, it’s a good idea to go ahead and get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so.

Although the flu vaccine doesn’t protect against H3N2, it still offers protection against three other flu strains, she said.

“Three out of four is better than nothing,” she said.

Montgomery said the number of people who have received flu shots at the health department is about average. But since it was anticipated to be a bad year for the flu, the department purchased a greater supply of the vaccine, she added.

Like Root, Montgomery said she wouldn’t be surprised if another wave of influenza hits.

“That’s pretty typical during the flu season,” she said.

Montgomery said there are many other illnesses besides influenza going around right now, including a stomach virus, bronchitis, allergies and sinus infections.

“Our only recommendation is that when you start feeling bad, go see the doctor and get tested for the flu,” she said. “The flu is always a concern because it can be deadly.”

People who are sick should stay home from work and school, and everyone should wash their hands often with antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer, she added.

“People have to take care of themselves and need to practice these precautions to limit their exposure,” she said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.