Bad bugs: The flu continues to hit Weld, and experts expect it to get worse in February
January 13, 2018
Jasjot Johar takes the flu seriously, and that's partly because of a 30-year-old woman who got sick from it a few years ago.
She ignored the symptoms, stayed home and never sought treatment, even when things got bad. She died. That stuck with him.
Johar, an emergency room physician at McKee Medical Center, said he's seen a lot more patients for the flu this year.
He knew it was coming — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted a nasty flu season early — and he knows the worst is yet to come.
"Volume doesn't tend to peak until February," Johar said.
Each year there are about 60,000 flu deaths in the U.S., Johar said, and this year they expect a much higher number. An aging population contributes to that, he said, as the flu tends to take a toll on the elderly. He also said he wonders if fewer people got vaccinated following past mild flu seasons.
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Despite some questions as to the effectiveness of the flu shot, Johar encouraged folks to get one. It's not too late, Johar said.
Concerns have been raised about this year's vaccine after an editorial in the "New England Journal of Medicine" this past week said the shot was 10 percent effective against the strain in Australia.
But others cautioned against using those statistics and said the vaccine in recent years has proven to be 40 percent effective against various strains. Johar said he believes the vaccine is 50 percent effective this year, for instance.
The other 50 percent, Johar said, should experience less severe symptoms.
Sick cases growing
Flu season typically begins Oct. 1 and runs through April.
During Colorado's past flu season, 3,340 people were hospitalized and two children died, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
As of Jan. 6, a total of 1,582 people have been hospitalized statewide since the beginning of this year's flu season in October. There were 221 people hospitalized the week of Jan. 6 alone.
Young children and elderly folks still are the most likely to be hospitalized for the flu, according to the state health department.
The CDC found Colorado to have moderate influenza-like illness activity. That measures the percent of outpatient visits in a state related to the flu. Wyoming also measured moderate, though many surrounding states, such as Nebraska, New Mexico and Arizona measured high.
Weld County has seen a total of 78 reported hospitalizations between October and January.
In December, 47 people were hospitalized, according to a news release from the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, quite an increase over December 2016 when only eight people were hospitalized. In the first week of 2018, more than 22 people were hospitalized. Flu type A is the most prevalent strain in Weld, with 55 hospitalizations, followed by type B with seven hospitalizations. This past week alone there were 12 reported hospitalizations.
So far Greeley-Evans School District 6 hasn't had a major outbreak, said Theresa Myers, spokeswoman for the district.
"It's been real sporadic so far," she said. "We've had some respiratory stuff but nothing unusual yet."
The schools work to teach kids about prevention with hand washing and covering their mouth and nose when they sneeze, what they call a "vampire" sneeze, Myers said. They also do normal cleanings around the building daily, but if an outbreak were to happen, they'd do a deep clean.
The district works closely with the health department, Myers said. They've been told to be ready for a peak in February.
"We've got our radar up," Myers said.
The flu spreads through droplets, Johar said. It can transmit if people sneeze or cough on you or on surfaces you've touched.
Johar recommends staying away from sick people. If you are sick, he recommends you stay away from work or school.
Taking care of your overall health with sleep and a healthy diet also are important, so you're ready to fight the illness when you come into contact with it.
"Some medical evidence suggests vitamin C and Zinc do seem to have benefits in preventing or reducing viral illnesses," Johar said.
When to go to the hospital
The flu usually comes on suddenly. People often experience fever or feverish chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.
Most of the time, people can kick the flu in a few days with rest and extra care, including lots of fluids.
"Not everyone with flu symptoms has to go to the emergency room," Johar said.
Some can develop complications such as pneumonia. Those complications can be life threatening. That's why even healthy people should take it seriously.
If kids experience fast or troubled breathing, a bluish skin color, extreme irritability, fever with a rash, dehydration, not waking up or interacting or symptoms that improve but then return with a fever and worse cough, it's time to take them to hospital, according to the CDC.
Same goes for adults who experience difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting or flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with a fever and a worse cough.
The CDC also recommends getting medical help right away for infants who are unable to eat, have trouble breathing, have no tears when they cry or have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.