‘Tis the season for the flu | AspenTimes.com

‘Tis the season for the flu

Aspen Valley Hospital is seeing some serious cases of the flu this winter, says a spokeswoman for the hospital.

But, in some cases, those who didn’t get flu shots and have contracted influenza can now be treated successfully with anti-viral drugs if it’s caught soon enough. And doctors and hospitals now have a tool that is fairly effective in diagnosing flu cases.

This month, AVH has seen some 50 people with flu-like symptoms or upper-respiratory symptoms, said Kathy Gibbard, infection control coordinator and employee health coordinator for the hospital.

When the flu strikes, Gibbard said, the first symptom is often a high fever, followed by headache and body aches which can be quite severe. The fever may last three or four days.

Patients may also suffer from fatigue and weakness that can last as long as two or three weeks, and some may be bedridden as a result. Flu victims can have extreme chest discomfort and coughing, too, Gibbard said.

Gibbard emphasized that flu is a respiratory disease, though, and that gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea are not caused by flu. She suggested that flu patients might show those symptoms, brought on by another disease organism, if the patient’s immune system is depressed by influenza.

A typical head cold can be distinguished from the flu by the lack of the fever and headache that generally characterize influenza, Gibbard said.

Gibbard said of 37 people tested with a new diagnostic technique at the hospital this month, results for 17 were positive for influenza. Of those patients, six were admitted for inpatient care.

Figures from December 1998 are not available for comparison, Gibbard said, because the test, done with a nasal swab, wasn’t in use then. The technique is especially useful in cases of influenza because of its speed. “Within about 30 minutes, you can have a diagnosis,” Gibbard said.

The quick results are helpful because, in order to be effective, anti-viral medication must be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Four anti-viral medicines are now used to treat the flu, Gibbard said. Two are used for both treatment and prevention of infection caused by the type “A” influenza virus, which is by far the most common strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other two are used for treatment only, but are effective on both the “A” and “B” strains of influenza.

For those who didn’t get flu shots in November, it’s still not too late, Gibbard added. She said the vaccine is effective for about three months.

According to the CDC’s Influenza Information Line, the state of Colorado has “regional flu activity,” while influenza is “widespread” in Montana, Utah and Washington. Between Dec. 12 and Dec. 18, 7.8 percent of deaths in the United States were caused by influenza and pneumonia combined, the CDC says.

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