By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
It’s flu season once again in Elkhart County, and a local health official is predicting it could be worse than normal.
According to County Health Officer Daniel Nafziger, a typical flu season generally peaks between January and March, though this year health officials began seeing their first real cases of flu in early December, leading to predictions that this could be a longer and more severe season for the flu than in past years.
“The flu has arrived and is in full force,” Nafziger said from his office Friday afternoon. “It seems to be a more severe season this year than anytime last year, and it’s early, compared to when the flu often hits. This year we saw the uptick in December and it’s still going strong in January. So right now it’s hard to know if we’re at the peak or if it’s going to continue to clime.”
While no deaths have yet been reported in Elkhart County due to the flu, Nafziger said he has been in contact with several local hospitals including IU Health Goshen Hospital, and personnel at most of those facilities are indicating significant numbers of flu-related cases.
“I know Goshen Hospital has been fairly full,” Nafziger said, “and I’ve heard about hospitals in other states that are having to put up tents to deal with all the patents they have coming in with the flu.”
So what’s the best way to avoid getting the flu?
“The number one thing is to get vaccinated,” Nafziger said. “I often hear from people who say they got the flu shot and then got sick, but the reality is the flu shot is a killed virus, so you can’t get the flu from the flu shot, and it’s the most effective thing we have to protect ourselves against the flu.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine is made from the following three viruses:
• an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
• an A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus; and
• a B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus (from the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses).
“The most common strain that’s been identified this year is the H3N2 strain,” Nafziger said. “Obviously H1N1 was the virus a few years back that caused a worldwide pandemic, and while that virus was particularly hard on younger patients, overall it was a rather benign virus. The H3N2 virus actually tends to cause more sever infections and more complications than the H1N1, and if you look historically at the years where there was more H3N2 than H1N1, more people tend to die from the H3N2 virus.
“We don’t have a perfect way of predicting how many will die, but the odds are this will be a worse year than some.”
While getting vaccinated is without a doubt the best way to avoid contracting the flu, Nafziger was quick to note that taking the vaccine is no guarantee against infection.
“What I’m hearing right now is that this year’s vaccine is a moderately effective vaccine,” Nafziger said. “They’re estimating the vaccine’s effectiveness for this year is 62 percent, so it really depends on if you’re a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person if you think that’s a good number or not. But if you were told you could reduce your chance of having your home robbed by 62 percent by locking your doors, I think most of us would do that. So this is kind of the same principle.”
Signs of illness
Think you might have the flu? Here are some signs to look out for.
“The most common thing people get is fevers and chills and respiratory symptoms,” Nafziger said. “It is a respiratory virus, so people may have nasal symptoms and cough. In terms of warning signs, one of the things we do get concerned about is when patients have the flu and feel like they’re getting better, but then they start getting worse again, because that may indicate a secondary bacterial infection.
“These bacteria can essentially attack the lungs or airways after an influenza virus has created initial damage, and oftentimes it’s the bacteria that causes death,” he continued. “So if you are feeling better, but then start feeling worse, that’s the time to see your doctor.”
As for ways — other than the vaccine — to try and avoid getting or spreading the flu, Nafziger pointed to three key factors people should keep in mind throughout the flu season and beyond.
“Probably the three key messages apart from the vaccine are to one, cover your mouth when you cough,” Nafziger said, “two, washing your hands, which will help you if you make contact with a virus or contaminated surface, and three, staying home if you’re sick rather than powering through and exposing a lot of other people to the virus.”
For those who have not yet received a flu vaccination this season, Nafziger noted that most people in this area have been getting their vaccines either through their individual healthcare providers or through major pharmacy chains including Walgreens and CVS. Cost for the vaccine typically falls around $20 per dose, he said.
“One of the best ways to find out where you can get a vaccine is by using an influenza vaccine locator program,” Nafziger said. “One that I would recommend can be found online by visiting http://flushot.healthmap.org?address.”