Take care, Switzerland County residents: flu season is on its way to the area

7

As the temperature drops and snow begins to fall, many Switzerland County residents are already feeling the effects of the beginning of the cold and flu season.

Many county residents have already started trying to preempt the flu by getting a flu shot — the Switzerland County Health Department has given nearly 700 vaccinations while local doctors have also been busy — other residents have opted to just wait and hope that they don’t get sick this winter.

“There’s still time for people to get a flu shot,” Dr. Scott Frede said. “With the vaccination, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to get up to full strength, and that takes people right into the middle of the flu season, but it’s better than not having a shot at all.”

The traditional flu season runs from November through late February; with the illness beginning to take over as people move inside due to the cold weather. Although it can hit at any time, most Switzerland County healthcare providers are waiting for the charge to begin.

“About 3-4 weeks ago, we had a string of people who came in with that achy, general ‘not feeling well’, general stuff,” nurse practitioner Greg Fillenwarth said. “Since then it’s tapered off somewhat, but we’re really just now getting into the flu season.”

“There are many viruses that copy flu-like symptoms, and right now we’re seeing a lot of that,” Dr. Marc Willage said. “There’s a lot of people with flu-like symptoms, but what we’re really seeing are colds and other viruses for the most part.”

Ask any of the medical personnel what types of things can be done to keep the flu at bay this winter, and a couple of things stand out.

First, all of the medical professionals say that people need to wash their hands. Hand washing on a regular basis, and when you come into contact with someone who is ill, can really do a lot to stop the spread of sickness.

“Washing your hands is a pretty easy way to keep yourself from getting sick,” Dr. Frede said. “After coming into contact with people who are sick it’s definitely something that you should do; and also after you’ve been out in public. If you’re out somewhere where you don’t have access to water; there are alcohol-based hand sanitizers that really work pretty well.”

“If you come into contact with someone who is sick, you also need to try and avoid touching your eyes or your nose,” Dr. Willage said. “If someone has a virus, touching the eyes or nose is a way of quickly spreading it.”

“There’s a big debate about over the counter drugs to prevent flu and if they really work,” Greg Fillenwarth said. “They won’t do you any harm, but they may not do any good, either. You just need to take precautions and be aware when you’re around sick people.”

Immediately throw away tissues after using them, and making sure that you drink plenty of fluids are other common sense ways of controlling the flu; and those who are at a high risk for flu also need to simply stay inside and use moderation in activities.

Dr. Willage said that those in the high risk groups for flu include: people over age 65; those with chronic conditions; children under six months old; and caretakers with children between the ages of six months and three years.

“Those people in those high risk groups should seriously consider getting a flu shot,” Dr. Willage said.

Rita Sullivan of the Switzerland County Health Department said that the health department had approximately 15 flu shots left as of press time, but that the office does have a number of children’s flu shots that have been provided by the Indiana State Department of Health.

“Any child between the ages of six months and 23 months is eligible to receive one of the children’s flu shots at no cost,” Rita Sullivan said. “These shots have been given to the counties by the state health department, so if any parents wants their child to have a flu shot, they can get one here at no cost.”

Rita Sullivan said that the Switzerland County Health Department has approximately 50 children’s doses available.

Although the health department is running low on flu shots — offices have to place their orders in February, so it turns into a guessing game on how many are needed — both Dr. Frede’s office and Dr. Willage’s office still have flu shots left.

“Last year there was a shortage and many places didn’t get all of the flu shots that they asked for,” Dr. Frede said. “It appears as though there won’t be any problems with supply this year.”

*

So what happens when, after taking all of the precautions available, you still get sick with the flu.

For the most part, modern medicine treats it just like grandma used to.

“Drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest,” Greg Fillenwarth said. “You just have to use common sense and stay in bed until you get feeling better.”

“There’s nothing much to do except when you’re feeling sick, just stay home and get fluids and get rest,” Dr. Willage said.

“Most of the time you just have to ride it out,” Greg Fillenwarth said. “But those people with ongoing conditions such as asthma or emphysema or other lung conditions need to take the flu very seriously; as do the elderly and the very young. People shouldn’t hesitate to seek some help if they are high risk.”

Some of the symptoms of the flu include: shortness of breath; high fever; chills; achiness; and headache.

“Everyone just needs to make sure that they take care of themselves and use the proper precautions as we head into the flu season,” Dr. Willage said. “Right now it’s just beginning, so people need to take care of themselves.”

*

What about the “bird flu”?

Dr. Frede says that there is no connection between the flu that people see here and the avian flu that is causing a stir around the world.

“The bird flu and seasonal flu that we see here are completely different,” he said. “seasonal flu is here and now. Bird flu is something that the Center for Disease Control is monitoring to see if there’s any evidence that it’s going to be a problem here in this country.”

The bird flu is also called the “Pandemic Flu” and “Avian Flu”; and Dr. Frede says that the information that he is seeing shows that it is highly unlikely that the disease will go through the U.S.

“It’s something that the federal government is just trying to be prepared for,” Dr. Frede said.

He said that there have been three pandemics of flu in the last century; with the first being in 1918 and another in the 1960s. Although there are some people who are fearful that this bird flu will be another epidemic.

“Currently there is no threat, so people shouldn’t be concerned with it,” Dr. Frede said. “It’s something that is being monitored, but there is no threat to anyone in this country because of the bird flu.”