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  • Last modified 305 days ago (Jan. 17, 2018)

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Influenza makes early spike in county

Staff writer

No one has to tell Melvin Watkins that influenza has struck hard and early this year.

The 78-year-old Pilsen resident had an early October bout of influenza that hospitalized him for three days.

The flu struck his chest rapidly, likely because his lungs are weakened from asbestos exposure during his years in military service.

“I went to the doctor and she told me to get into the hospital in Wichita,” Watkins said. “It was quite a battle. I still have a cough.”

Watkins is still struggling to get back to health.

Exact numbers aren’t available for the county, but the state department of health reports influenza is at a near-epidemic level.

County health nurse Deidre Serene said hospitals have had increased numbers of patients with influenza-like illnesses. However, medical providers are not required to report flu cases to the state.

Brenda Rhodes, infection control chairman at St. Luke Hospital in Marion, said the hospital saw an increase in patients with symptoms of influenza starting the week before Christmas. There also has been an increase in patients with pneumonia, a common complication of influenza.

“It’s been very busy,” Rhodes said.

The hospital put visitor restrictions into place Dec. 26, Rhodes said. Signs posted at doors tell visitors not to come in if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms including cough and fever.

“We’re still seeing increased levels,” Rhodes said.

Serene noted that numbers of flu diagnoses don’t seem to be going down yet. If numbers continue to increase, January and February look bad for flu.

“Usually influenza comes on abruptly, while a cold takes two to three days,” Serene said.

Even though flu season is underway, Centers for Disease Control is encouraging people to go ahead and get immunized this year, Serene said.

The health department has influenza shots available for infants through seniors, she said.

The flu season typically peaks in January and February, she said.

“You can sometimes see it in March,” Serene said.

Serene offers additional tips for avoiding flu.

“My recommendation is your typical hygiene,” Serene said. “Wash your hands thoroughly. If you have to sneeze, sneeze into the crook of your arm. If you’re sick with a fever, stay home. Wash your hands after sneezing. Get plenty of rest, and eat healthy. If you have not gotten a flu shot call us and schedule a time to get it.”

Serene hopes schools will encourage students and employers encourage workers to stay home if they have a fever.

Influenza or cold?

With some symptoms the same, it can be difficult to decide whether you are suffering from a severe cold or influenza.

Here are some clues to determine which illness it is:

  • Influenza symptoms usually come on abruptly, while cold symptoms usually come on gradually.
  • Aches are usually worse, even severe, with flu. Aches are slight with colds.
  • Fever, chills, fatigue and weakness, chest discomfort and cough (which can be severe), and headache are common with flu.
  • With colds, fever is rare, aches are slight, cough is hacking, sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat are common, chest discomfort is mild to moderate, and headache is rare.

Most people will recover from influenza in a few days to less than two weeks.

Some develop complications including pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and worsening of pre-existing illness such as asthma and congestive heart failure.

Last modified Jan. 17, 2018

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