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Flu cases hit adults, children, close county schools

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By Calen McKinney

 

It has sent many Taylor Countians to the doctor, and then back home to bed.

Flu season is in full swing, and several local doctors say they are seeing many patients who have the illness, from adults to children.

Last Friday, Taylor County school system canceled class for inclement weather and declining attendance because of the flu and other illness.

Taylor County Superintendent Roger Cook says his students went back to class on Monday, and the three-day weekend seemed to improve attendance.

Last Thursday, he said, yielded the district’s lowest attendance figures of the year at 90 percent.

With that in mind, Cook said, and impending winter weather, he decided to cancel school the following day.

“But on Monday, we were back up to 94 percent,” he said. “Usually we run between 97 to 98 percent, so we are still down some.”

Across town at Campbellsville schools, Superintendent Mike Deaton says attendance has been fine, with no discussion concerning canceling school for illness.

Dr. Steve Baum of University of Louisville Pediatrics Campbellsville says he has seen many children test positive for flu this season.

“We’ve seen a lot of flu recently,” he said. Most flu patients, Baum said, have been complaining of fever, muscle aches and coughing. After testing positive, he said, he starts patients on medications.

Based on this year’s flu cases compared to the swine flu in 2009, Baum said there haven’t been as many diagnosed with the flu this year.

“But it’s definitely here,” he said. “It seems like it’s a bit later than [in other areas] of the state. Now it’s here and it’s full force.”

While illness might be going around at local schools, it’s also spreading in the community.

Kim McKenna, nurse practitioner at Crossroads Family Medicine, says many patients at her office have tested positive for the flu.

She said patients seem to be improving, however, as she saw more flu patients two weeks ago than this week.

“It’s much more prevalent this year and probably the last two years,” she said.

McKenna says her patients with the flu have exhibited joint pain, body aches, fever, cough and nasal drainage.

The flu often starts with feeling fine one day and terrible the next, she said.

“They feel like they’ve been hit by a truck.”

Amy Tomlinson, public health services coordinator for the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, to which Taylor County Health Department belongs, says there are two types of flu testing, the most common of which is a nasal swab that allows for rapid results. The other is sent to a state laboratory and takes longer.

Dr. William Feltner says he has seen several patients, especially during the past two weeks, with positive flu tests. The patients have complained of headaches and muscle aches, fever, fatigue and coughing.

Feltner said this year’s flu strand seems to be a bit more resilient than others.

“It’s particularly hard on the very young and the very old,” he said.

And antibiotic medications don’t help cure the flu, he said, but can help with complications from it.

Feltner prescribes anti-viral medications for those with the flu. But even those aren’t for everyone, he said, such as those who have chronic illnesses.

For those who haven’t had a flu shot this year, local doctors still recommend them. Flu season is expected to last until the end of March, they say, and the flu vaccine can take up to two weeks to take effect.

Feltner says this year’s flu vaccine is 62 percent effective. And even though there is still a chance of getting the flu after having the vaccine, he said he recommends that people get it.

“There’s still some protection there that they can get,” he said. Those who already have the flu, Baum said, should minimize their exposure to the public. He said those with the illness can expect to start to feel better in about seven days.

Feltner said he recommends that those who have had the flu stay at home until a day after their last fever.

“Keep visitors away,” he said.

Tomlinson says people who have the flu can spread it to other people from as far as six feet away.

“Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk,” she said. “These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose. To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick.”

She said adults could spread the flu before they even feel sick.

“Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days.”

Flu symptoms can start to show one to four days after the virus enters a person’s body, Tomlinson said.

“That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick,” she said. “Some persons can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.”

To stay healthy, Baum suggests people wash their hands thoroughly. If soap and water aren’t available, he recommends alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

“I think hand washing is the most important thing,” he said.

Tomlinson said it’s also important to thoroughly clean eating utensils and dishes used by a person who had the flu before someone else uses them.

“Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill.”

But the best way to prevent the flu, Tomlinson says, is to receive a flu shot. She said it is still widely available at doctor’s offices and pharmacies.

Several other local doctors did not return phone calls by press time to comment for this story.