The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

December 28, 2012

Influenza attacking Wapello County

Holiday festivities a party for germs; virus tough enough to knock down normally healthy person for 10 days

OTTUMWA — Wapello County saw a surge of influenza cases three weeks ago, and the numbers are expected to increase as the holidays dwindle down.

A common misconception is that the “flu” and “influenza” are the same thing, said Wapello County Public Health clinical director Lynelle Diers.

“The flu is nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,” Diers said. “Influenza consists of cough, joint and muscle aches, headache, running a temperature from 99 to 104, being very, very tired, getting really cold, getting the shakes.”

Diers said the vomiting and diarrhea associated with “the flu” does not usually go along with influenza.

“That’s why when people say they got the flu shot and then they go ahead and get vomiting and diarrhea, they say it didn’t work,” Diers said. “But the flu shot is not for that type of flu, it’s for influenza.”

But both the flu and influenza are viruses, Diers said, so antibiotics won’t ward them off. She also noted that there are a lot of things that can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, from E. coli to salmonella.

“In order to determine that, you’ll need to see your health care provider,” she said.

The flu shot covers two influenza A strains and one B strain, she said.

“What’s circulating in Wapello County is influenza A,  and that’s covered by the vaccine,” she said.

She said that people should still go get the shot if they haven’t already.

“Influenza is extremely contagious,” she said. “It’s so contagious because you can get it just from someone coughing near you and then you inhale the droplets.”

Diers said she started noticing a big surge in influenza cases in Wapello County three weeks ago.

And even though some New Year’s Eve parties may be calling your name, Diers said it’s best to stay home if you’re feeling sick.

“We see a surge in cases after the holidays because people don’t stay home, they go to their families and give it to everyone else at the reunion,” she said. “The other thing with influenza is it’s contagious for 10 days.”

Diers said the surge in influenza this year correlates to fewer people getting vaccinated.

“I think people get into a safe mode and feel they don’t need it,” she said. “We’ve given out a lot less this year than in previous years. Or, more providers may be giving it, also.”

Influenza will knock down a normally healthy individual for five to seven days, she said.

“It’s so miserable, with body aches, head pounding and fever,” she said. “My second year in public health I caught it. I still remember vividly how miserable I was walking from the bed to the couch. It’s something I don’t think people forget.”

She said one of the most severe years she’s seen in terms of those coming down with influenza was in 2009 when H1N1 struck. Since then, H1N1 has been in the vaccine as one of the strains.

“One of our own staff, during our first clinic when we gave the H1N1 vaccine [in 2009], we hadn’t had masks for the staffers and one was down within two days with it,” she said. “Protect yourself, get plenty of sleep and eat healthy.”

The only people who might want to steer clear of the flu shot are those with an allergy to eggs and those who have had a previous severe reaction to a flu shot, Diers said, as well as children younger than 6 months.

“It’s not 100 percent, but if you do happen to get influenza, you won’t be as ill as someone who has not received it,” Diers said. “From what I’m hearing from the community, people are being home for many, many days.”

If a person feels like they’re coming down with influenza, they should go to their health care provider within 48 hours, Diers said.

“They do have antivirals that may shorten the influenza by one to two days,” she said. “It won’t completely cure it, but it may shorten the amount of days you are ill.”

In her personal classification, Diers said influenza and pertussis (commonly known as whooping cough) are the most contagious.

So far Wapello County has seen seven cases of pertussis this season, which is more than the two cases Diers saw last year but far down from the 17 cases she saw in 2010.

“I also recommend if any adult has not had the booster of Tdap [Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis] to get that,” Diers said of the pertussis vaccination. “The thing with pertussis is in an older person, sometimes the cough may be a bronchitis-type cough and very innocent, versus a small child where it can be very life threatening.”

It takes three shots before a person builds immunity to pertussis, and sometimes if a baby has been around adults or grandparents who are coughing, the baby can catch it.

“When you’re out, make sure you wipe your carts off, stay away from people coughing who don’t cover their mouth and keep your home environment clean,” she said. “If there is a sick person in your home, isolate that person from other people in the home.”

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