Local outbreak worst in five years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Fever, congestion, coughing, aches and pains. Sound familiar? If you haven’t already suffered the symptoms of the flu this season, it’s likely someone in your family or someone you know has, and people throughout Butler County have been scrambling to local doctors and clinics to get a flu vaccine or treatment.

Local healthcare providers feel shell-shocked following this year’s onset of flu season.

&uot;We had a total of 225 patients Friday with 149 of them having upper respiratory problems and fever-type symptoms,&uot; said Stabler Clinic Administrator Jerry Golden, who calls this flu season the worst he’s seen since 1998. &uot;In October and November we averaged 300 more patients per month than we did in the prior year. God only knows what December is going to look like.&uot;

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Already, the clinic gave more than 1,000 flu shots this season and exhausted its supply of the inject able vaccine, Golden said. Do not worry, more is on order and should be available later this week.

He also said the clinic has an ample supply of the inhaleable vaccine.

&uot;We’ve got the flu mist that nobody seems to want,&uot; he said. &uot;Supposedly it’s just as effective as the shot but you have to be between the ages of 5 and 59 to get it, so it doesn’t help the elderly.&uot;

While Golden said the up front cost of the flu mist is more than the shot, the company that makes the mist is offering a $25 rebate that brings the net cost down to $21, which is in line with the inject able vaccine.

Although the flu season’s peak occurs any time from late December through March, at Stabler Hospital the emergency room has been buzzing with patients since around Thanksgiving, making this the earliest the flu bug has struck Greenville in years.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 114,000 persons are hospitalized each year in the United States with the flu and 36,000 will die from flu-related problems with most deaths related to respiratory failure or pneumonia.

&uot;Most (people) are coming in with high fevers, headaches, extreme tiredness and cough,&uot; said Stabler Hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer Joe Hobbs. &uot;Kids are coming in with runny noses, muscle aches and coughing. The elderly are having symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which is a bit different from the flu seasons from the past.&uot;

Hobbs said this year’s strain is different from the Influenza A or B strains that were predominate in flu seasons of the past.

&uot;The strain we’re seeing is the Fujian strain that originated in China,&uot; said Hobbs, whose emergency room has seen more than 100 patients since Thanksgiving with flu-like symptoms. &uot;It’s a bit more virulent.&uot;

He also said the current vaccine being widely administered was not made with this strain in mind, but that it provides approximately 78 percent coverage of the Fujian strain.

If you or someone you know is already showing symptoms of the flu, Hobbs said most physicians would prescribe either Tamiflu or Amantadine, which are antiviral drugs.

&uot;Either one will be effective and these drugs help you recover a little faster,&uot; he said. &uot;The key is that once you start seeing these symptoms to see a doctor within 48 hours and get started on one of these drugs.&uot;

If you think you’ve waited too long to get a flu shot, don’t worry, Hobbs said it’s still early in the flu season and he suggests you get one, although you’ll need to give the vaccine approximately two weeks to become effective.