Flu cases are up: Take precautions to stay well

Chances are that you know someone who has become ill with the flu this year.

It could be a family member, a colleague, a friend or someone at church —whoever it is, Dr. James Robelli, of St. Joseph’s Hospital North in Lutz, offers this bit of advice: “If you know someone that has the flu, stay away from them.”

Dr. James Robelli  (Courtesy of St. Joseph's Hospital-North)

Dr. James Robelli
(Courtesy of St. Joseph’s Hospital-North)

More people are coming down with the flu, as compared to prior years, said Dr. Nadeem Kahn, chief of medicine and director of infectious control at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel.

Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel has reported a significant increase in the number of flu cases coming into the hospital, according to statistics provided by Tracy Clouser, director of marketing.

In December, it saw a 274 percent increase in flu cases in its emergency department and a 125 percent increase in the number of patients admitted with the flu.

Robelli, who is medical director of the emergency department at St. Joseph’s North in Lutz, also reported an increased number of flu cases.

It is a nasty bug.

“It’s not like having a common cold. It really feels like a truck has run over you. Back pain. Muscle aches. You can’t do much of anything,” said Kahn, of Infectious Disease Associates of Tampa Bay.

Robelli concurred with Kahn’s assessment, describing the flu as a “cold on steroids.”

Dr. Nadeem Khan (Courtesy of Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel)

Dr. Nadeem Khan
(Courtesy of Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this year’s vaccine has been less effective in preventing the flu. Despite that fact, both the CDC and the local doctors recommend the vaccination.

Even if it doesn’t prevent the flu, it is likely that the course of the illness will be shorter and the symptoms less severe, both Robelli and Kahn said.

Or, as Robelli said, “It’s better than nothing.”

People with the flu begin being contagious about a day before the onset of symptoms and are typically contagious for about a week, Robelli said.

Because it is possible for you to unwittingly make others ill and because other people who are contagious may infect you, it’s important to practice good hygiene, the local doctors agreed.

“I recommend hand sanitizer for everybody — in their purse or their car,” Kahn said.

It’s a good idea to use the sanitizer after grocery shopping, stopping at the post office or going to other public places, he said.

“You don’t know who’s been touching what,” Kahn said.

It’s also important to use good hygiene — such as coughing into a tissue or your sleeve and washing your hands frequently.

Be safe in the workplace, too.

Don’t go to work if you’re ill, and use good hygiene.

Many offices have computers that are used by many employees.

Be sure to clean work surfaces and wash your hands frequently.

“You’ve got to remember, those hands are everywhere,” Kahn said.

Kahn theorizes the increased number of cases showing up at the hospital may be connected with increasing numbers of people visiting the area during winter months.

“A lot of the patients that you meet — most of them are just visiting family or they’re snowbirds who live up North,” Kahn said.

“It seems like a lot of the people we see at the hospital are because we have an influx in the population. Obviously, the more people you have, the more chances you have for influenza or other illnesses,” he said.

People who are younger than 2 or older than 65 are among those most vulnerable, Robelli said.

Others at high risk for serious complications include people with lung disease, with end-stage renal disease, people who are on chemotherapy, women who are pregnant and people with other chronic illnesses.

Those in high-risk categories should call their doctor as soon as they experience symptoms.

It’s a good idea to get in touch with your doctor even if you’re not in a high-risk group because delaying treatment means that medications will not be effective, Robelli said.

The CDC recommends flu antiviral drugs for treatment of influenza illness in people who are very sick with the flu or people who are at high risk of flu complications.

Adult deaths for the flu are not reported to the Florida Department of Health, Deanna Krautner, of the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County, said in an email. Those deaths are grouped with pneumonia, she said.

Pediatric deaths for the flu are reported, and Pasco County has had one child death related to the flu, this flu season.

Pasco County continues to see an increase in influenza activity, Krautner reported. “Our surveillance indicates hospitals and urgent care centers are experiencing elevated levels of influenza.”

As of early January, there had been 21 pediatric deaths from the flu reported nationwide, according to the CDC.

Published January 14, 2015

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