EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - It's flu season, and this one seems to be a doozy.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts out a weekly map of where flu has been reported. The most recent map shows "widespread" flu in 42 of the 50 states, including Colorado. And the flu hit hard and fast this season. Nationally, the feds report that people seeing doctors for flu symptoms doubled in the space of four weeks, to 5.6 percent of all patients.
Jill Kovacevich is the office manager for Doctors on Call, a clinic in Avon. Kovacevich said that flu-like cases in just the last month made up 7 percent of all office visits.
Before going farther, it's worth noting that "the flu" isn't what most of us think it is - that is, intestinal distress that keeps victims on, or near, a toilet. The flu virus is actually a respiratory illness, can lays people low with some combination of high fever, sore throat, coughing, body aches and more. And, unlike a cold, which can creep up on people, the flu hits all at once. It's sort of like being run over by a truck full of used Kleenex.
In short, the flu is a cold that's been hot-rodded in Satan's workshop.
The flu can put sufferers in bed or on the sofa for a long, miserable week. The flu by itself can be fatal - nationally, two children have already died from it this season, and epidemics in the pre-antibiotic age have killed millions. The flu can also lead to complications including bronchitis and pneumonia, which can also be fatal.
But just the flu state and federal officials know about greatly underreports the spread of the disease. Local health departments only report to the feds the flu cases that hospitalize people.
The seriousness of the disease is why people in the medical profession urge just about everyone to get flu shots.
In Eagle, Eagle County Public Health Director Jennifer Ludwig said that office has provided hundreds of flu shots - either at a relatively low cost or without charge to county employees and their families.
Vail Valley Medical Center also provides no-cost shots to all of its employees and volunteers. But, according to an e-mail from medical center spokeswoman Lindsay Warner, the facility doesn't require those vaccinations.
And, while the flu vaccine takes a couple of weeks to take full effect, the shots are still available. The medical center's pharmacies inside the Vail hospital and Shaw Regional Cancer Center have them, as do the county's public health offices and many other pharmacies and doctor's offices.
Those shots are no guarantee of a flu-free season, but they are an inexpensive way to boost your immunity.
Kovacevich said of all the flu patients Doctors on Call has seen in the last month, none received a flu shot there. It's unlikely those patients got a flu shot elsewhere, she said, because the clinic asks patients if they've had the shot.
While "flu season" generally runs from October until as late as May, the heart of winter is also the heart of flu season, with people mostly staying inside buildings that are sealed against the cold - perfect places for germs to spread.
That's why Ludwig urges people who are sick to stay home as much as they can.
"You need to think about your co-workers and what you could be spreading," she said. "It's a selfless thing to just stay home."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.