Colorado leads the nation in flu cases
Some healthcare officials are reporting an increased number of respiratory illnesses this winter, including a flu bug strong enough to overpower the vaccine.
There are a variety of illnesses that occur in the cold winter months, but the most serious is the influenza virus—the flu—responsible for more than 30,000 deaths in America every year, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier in November, local physicians reported that occurrences of the virus were low. Now several months into the deep winter, the tables have turned and the virus has become widespread in Gunnison County.
Gunnison Valley Hospital infection control specialist Page Proffitt says flu numbers this year are worse than last. "Much more so," she adds.
Since January 8 the hospital (which includes the Gunnison Family Medical Center) has tested 75 people for the flu virus; 15 cases were positive infections, Proffitt says. She says at Gunnison Valley Family Physicians, 29 people were tested, and 27 were positive. Treatment was recommended for many more people with flu symptoms, but they were not tested, Proffitt says.
At the Elk Avenue Medical Center there were two positive flu cases in which the patients had received the annual flu vaccine, Proffitt says.
Elk Avenue Medical Center physician’s assistant Amy Sandusky says getting the flu after receiving the flu vaccine is not unheard of, but it is a sign of widespread infection when it happens.
Additionally, Proffitt says the flu virus is affecting all ages, from infants to the elderly.
Gunnison RE1J School District nurse Dawn Helman says children in the public schools are getting sick as usual, with reports of influenza, strep throat, and colds, "but nothing out of the ordinary.
Colorado was the first state in the nation this season to be listed as having widespread occurrences of flu, meaning that more than half the population is at risk of encountering the virus.
"Colorado has led the country in influenza," Proffitt says. "We never really even got on the radar last year." Although flu in Colorado is considered widespread, it may be too early to tell if flu occurrences will be as severe as the 2003/2004 winter season, when 14,818 cases of flu were confirmed and 14 children died from flu statewide.
Other illnesses being reported locally are bronchitis and pneumonia.
Sandusky says there seems to be a regular number of people coming to Elk Avenue Medical Center with various illnesses. "At least 60 to 100 a week. They run the gamut from mild viral infection, to full-on bacterial pneumonia," Sandusky says.
Proffitt says there have also been several cases of adenovirus, a virus that is very similar to the flu. "It can make you just as sick and can get you hospitalized," she says.
Symptoms of the flu include a high fever, muscle aches and headaches, chills, tiredness, a dry cough and a runny nose.
While many patients have been visiting the doctor’s office seeking prescription medication, Sandusky says most patients are told to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
Additionally, good old ibuprofen is recommended to reduce fevers. If coughs are severe enough to keep the patient awake, Sandusky suggests getting over-the-counter cold and cough medicines.
She advises patients to wait at least a week before trying to get antibiotics. "A lot of these (illnesses) can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. As long as you’re gradually improving and not having any respiratory distress or getting severely dehydrated, you can wait it out. Our bodies are able to fight a lot of these things off," Sandusky says.
Those who haven’t had the flu yet this season can still get the flu vaccine, but time is running out for it to be worthwhile.
Sandusky says the best prevention strategy is the same thing your mother always told you: Wash your hands. "That’s the way the majority of these things are passed," Sandusky says.