Utahns hit by influenza bug

Dec 27 2012 - 11:30pm

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If you feel like you've been hit by a train, you're not alone.

Utah is experiencing an unusual surge of influenza and influenza-type illnesses.

Health officials said Thursday that a majority of the influenza cases are coming from a subtype of influenza B, which was not included in this year's vaccine.

"Influenza has been much more prevalent in the last two to three weeks," said Chase Bailey, a family nurse practitioner at Ogden Clinic. "I've seen about three to four cases a day. It comes on fast and hits pretty hard. People say they feel like they've been hit by a freight train."

According to the Utah Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza activity in Utah is widespread, the highest level reported. Since Sept. 30, there have been 686 confirmed cases of influenza B. Because many people aren't tested, however, health officials suspect the numbers to be much higher than reported.

Wyoming is the only other state in the West with widespread flu activity.

"When people start coming in with flu-like symptoms, we will swab them to see what they have and what to expect will be hitting the community," Bailey said. "After you see a fair amount of cases with the same clinical presentation, you can pretty much assume everyone has the same thing. There are some viruses that have similar symptoms, but the flu generally hits fast and hard."

Every hospital emergency room in the Top of Utah is also experiencing a marked increase in sickness, including influenza A, B and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a respiratory illness that can be quite serious in babies. But that's not all they're seeing. Strep and sinus infections are also among the illnesses being diagnosed.

"I don't have exact numbers, but it certainly has increased over the last week or so," said Brigham City Community Hospital Emergency Room Director Susan Thompson. "We are seeing a lot of influenza and what we call 'ILI', or influenza-like-illnesses in our emergency room right now."

Dustin Waters, a clinical pharmacist at McKay-Dee Hospital, said he too has seen an increase in illnesses.

"The majority of positive influenza tests that we've seen locally are influenza B," he said. "This may be because there is a subtype of influenza B circulating that is not in this year's vaccine."

Dr. Rob Simmons, an emergency room physician at Davis Hospital and Medical Center, said he has also seen a significant number of patients with influenza A and B as well as RSV.

"The flu season has hit the area early and hard," he said, adding that influenza is a respiratory virus spread through droplets when someone coughs, sneezes or even talks.

Treatment is mainly supportive, he said, and includes Tylenol and ibuprofen for body aches and fever, rest and staying hydrated.

"There is an anti-viral medication we can give to people who are at risk for complications or who have compromised immune systems. but it's typically given within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms," Bailey said. "Antibiotics aren't going to help if you have the flu, but you should watch for secondary infections, such as pneumonia or sinusitis."

The flu typically lasts anywhere from seven to 14 days, say health officials, and even though influenza B isn't included in this year's vaccine, they strongly encourage people to get the shot.

"It's not too late to get vaccinated," Bailey said. "We're not even in the peak season yet, so if you haven't been vaccinated, please go and get it done. Influenza A is in this year's vaccination and the people I've seen with type A have had far more severe symptoms than those with type B."

Simmons said to decrease your risk of getting the flu, avoid contact with those who are sick, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based cleanser frequently. He also said to use common sense if you get sick. Stay home, so you don't expose others. The flu can be very dangerous to children and the elderly.

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