Nurse practitioner Renee Edwards of Village Health Care in La Grande checks Penny Zarate for flu symptoms Monday. Edwards has been seeing patients with seasonal illnesses since October and is seeing patients with flu symptoms. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
There have been more than 60 flu-related deaths in the state since the start of September
Twenty-five states are now reporting cases of this year’s flu, a familiar one identified as the “swine flu”of the H1N1 type.
Hospitals in the area of the University of Michigan Health System have reported putting a dozen adults and children with flu on life support. Texas and California have been hard hit, and Oregon isn’t far behind them.
The flu season has hit Oregon with a one-two punch. Portland and Eugene are just the first two cities in the state reporting very severe flu cases, well above the national average, according to the online Flu Tracker. As a result, there have been more than 63 flu-related deaths in Oregon since Sept. 1.
Nurse Practitioner Renee Edwards of Village Health Care in La Grande has been seeing patients with seasonal illnesses since October and now patients with flu symptoms too.
“In areas like ours where the climate is cold and dry, influenza is more prevalent and observed year round,” she said. “In areas that have moist air, there’s an advantage because that air has water droplets that block the spread of aspirates.”
How does one identify flu from other illnesses going around? It’s important to know that there are other illnesses going around that involve vomiting and diarrhea, but these are not influenza, according to national health reports.
“Flu is characterized by sudden onset, fever, chills, muscle aches and a cough sometimes,” Edwards said. “If a patient comes in within the first two days of onset, and the patient is very vulnerable, I would prescribe Tamiflu. Otherwise, the majority of people presenting with flu should rest, stay well hydrated and take ibuprofen for muscle aches, if tolerable. Of course, patients should be assessed individually by a physician because some people can’t take certain medications.”
The average incubation period for the swine flu is two days, and acute symptoms can last between five and seven days. The cough can last 18 or more days and is the last symptom of the flu to leave the body.
“If a person ever had bronchitis before, he could have the cough longer,” Edwards said. “It could last weeks for some and shorter for others. There can be individual factors like asthma or smoking that can make it last longer too.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is responding to Oregon’s battle with the bug by sending a record shipment of H1N1 vaccine, 175,000 doses in all, and 75,000 of them are earmarked for Portland. Vaccines are recommended for everyone over 6 months of age, especially the elderly, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and caregivers.
“This year’s flu shot covers the two worst viruses, and they got it right on the button this time,” Edwards said. “People who get the vaccine are lucky because they have good coverage.”
People who have contracted the swine flu, are contagious from just before symptoms appear until there is no more coughing or sneezing of viral fluids.
The virus replicates quickly and the patient responds with a low-grade fever for several days. Usually the patient is in bed during this acute stage and vacillating between chills and sweats. Some experience a runny nose, which causes a minor sore throat or more coughing.
“Postnasal sinus drainage sometimes causes an irritating cough that worsens when you lie down,” Edwards said. “Ibuprofen products can make you feel more comfortable, but you should also avoid stimulants like nicotine just before bed or caffeine during the day.”
What to do to Avoid the Flu
Influenza is a seasonal disease that spreads via airborne droplets and contaminated surfaces. It’s highly contagious — people can spread the flu even if they don’t know they’re sick. Influenza spreads mainly person-to-person when infected people cough or sneeze.
Get a flu shot
Most deaths and hospitalizations from influenza and its related complications occur in babies, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. But most flu transmissions come from young, healthy, unvaccinated children and adults. That’s why vaccination is such an important part of flu prevention.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Use soap and warm water. Wash for 15 to 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You can find these products in most supermarkets and drugstores. If the hand sanitizer is a gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.
Other ways to reduce the spread of the virus
• Clean work and household surfaces often
• Wear a mask if you have a weakened immune system
• Ask your family, friends and health providers to get a flu vaccination
• Get plenty of sleep
• Exercise and eat well
• Manage any chronic conditions
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people
• Stay home if you become sick