Ask anyone who has been hit hard by this season’s flu bug — there is no mistaking this flu for an ordinary cold.
|Sheri Bockbrader (right) gives flu shot to Deb Hostottle at Wood County Health Dept. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Dean Smith started feeling ill while at work managing a Bowling Green restaurant. It wasn't long before he had to go home sick.
"It came on real sudden," he said. Smith slept 12 hours straight, then spent the next day at home with a hacking cough, weakness, fever, congestion and achiness.
That was a couple weeks ago, and Smith can't completely shake the lingering effects of fatigue. "I still have a little bit of a cough."
Since Smith's wife is a middle school teacher, he is accustomed to exposure to contagious illnesses.
"Every time one of these things rolls around, we all get hit," he said of his family.
And once it gets started, this flu tends to spread.
"It's made the rounds here, too," Smith said of his workplace.
Across the nation, the flu bug this season is hitting with speed and severity. According to maps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41 states are now colored in red indicating "widespread" influenza.
Many areas are much worse than Wood County. According to the Associated Press, Massachusetts public health officials have reported 18 flu-related deaths in the state already this season, and Boston has declared a public health emergency. There have been about 700 confirmed cases of the flu in Boston so far this season, compared with 70 all of last season.
Wood County Hospital Emergency Department is also seeing more patients coming in with fever, chills, coughs and body aches.
"We are seeing a spike in activity," said Dr. Chris Goliver, emergency department physician.
|Items used to administer a flu shot.
But so far, few have needed to be admitted, he said. According to statistics at the Wood County Health Department, five Wood County residents have been hospitalized for the flu so far this season.
"I've not had a case I've had to hospitalize," Goliver said. In most cases, the flu can be treated with plenty of fluids, Tylenol or Motrin.
No deaths have been attributed to the flu in Ohio yet this flu season, according to Nikki Brue, epidemiologist for the Wood County Health Department.
Physicians are no longer required to report positive flu tests to local health departments, however, Brue said hospital emergency rooms do report confirmed cases. So far, there were five cases in November and 29 in December. "Our numbers are up. Last year at this time, I had none," she said. "It's definitely hitting earlier."
That's not a good sign, considering the usual peak of the flu season isn't until later this month or February.
"The cases are definitely coming faster," Brue said.
Schools also report large numbers of absences due to flu illnesses to the health department, but so far no local schools have seen mass illnesses, she added.
Goliver has empathy for flu patients, since he has already gone through the illness.
"It hurts," he said.
Though most people just tough it out at home, Goliver said patients should seek medical care if they experience shortness of breath, are lightheaded, dizzy or dehydrated.
Some anti-viral medicine can help relieve the symptoms if taken within in the first two days of getting the flu. But the drug, which must be prescribed, can only do so much.
|Sheri Bockbrader, a public health nurse, prepares items to administer a flu shot at the Wood County Health Department.
"There's no such thing as a cure for influenza," Goliver said.
The best idea is stopping the flu bug before it attacks. "Prevention is the key," he said.
That means getting a flu immunization and washing hands frequently. Ideally, if one member of a family gets sick, that person would wear a mask over the mouth and nose, "so they are not coughing all over their loved ones," Goliver said. Isolation of the sick family member is also recommended, "so they aren't spreading it to the entire family."
The virus is spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk.
Brue suggested that people with the flu not try to stick it out at work. "If you are sick, feeling pretty bad, stay at home," she said.
Flu vaccines are still available locally. The CDC is recommending that everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine. So far, the Wood County Health Department has given 699 flu shots this season, compared to 847 during the same period the year before. Pat Snyder, public information officer at the health department, said the decrease is likely due to the fact that the vaccine is now available at so many locations in the county.
The flu shots at the health clinic on East Gypsy Lane Road are $10 for children and $20 for adults. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurances are billed. Walk-ins are welcome during the clinic hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.