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Flu hits valley and state

Veronica Whitney

The flu has already killed four children in Colorado this season and local doctors say it has had an aggressive start in the Vail Valley as well.

“There’s definitely a flu outbreak here,” said Janet Engle, a pediatrician with Colorado Mountain Medical. “So far, the flu has been pretty aggressive and we’re seeing more cases than last year.”

Three more Colorado children have died of flu-related illnesses, bringing to at least four the number of fatalities in the state this season, health officials said Tuesday.



Colorado’s outbreak is considered “widespread” – the most serious category. Texas and Nevada also have widespread outbreaks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The statewide school absentee rate was 7 percent last week, worse than the highest rate of a year ago.



Officials said the actual number of cases is probably much higher than the reported number because most adults with the virus don’t see a doctor.

Eight-year-old Joseph David Williams of Wellington died Monday, his parents said. A 2-year-old and a 21-month-old died at The Children’s Hospital in Denver in the past week, hospital officials said.

“”It happened so quick and so sudden. He was fine. He wasn’t even that sick,” Joe’s father, Scott Williams, said Tuesday.



Larimer County health officials confirmed an 8-year-old boy died of the flu but didn’t release his name. A 15-year-old who had the flu and other conditions died at Children’s last week and was believed to be the first flu death in the state this season.

More cases

Although absenteeism hasn’t been high at Eagle County schools in the past weeks, Engle said in the past two weeks she’s been seeing lots of kids with high fevers.

“This week has been the worst. I’m seeing a lot of younger kids with flu symptoms,” Engle said.

Since the flu season started, Engle said she’s seen about five cases a day.

“Some days, half my patients have the flu,” she said.

Steve Yarberry, a doctor in Vail said he’s also seen a lot of patients with flu in the past weeks.

Mary Rogers, a nurse for downvalley schools said there have been cases in the Eagle and Gypsum schools, but not on an epidemic scale. The upvalley schools, so far, have not been hit hard either.

“We’ve had just a handful of cases,” Rogers said. “There weren’t any extraordinary absences before Thanksgiving break.

“We’ve been concerned about the flu and there are reasons to be concerned,” she added.

In Parachute, the scenario has been different. More than 30 percent of the students at a middle school missed school this week because they were sick with influenza. The school remained open.

In Basalt, the Elementary School had a peak of 57 out of 510 students absent because of the flu.

“The Thanksgiving break reduces the chances of having an epidemic in the schools,” Rogers said. “It’s good the kids got the week off so they aren’t in the school spreading germs.”

A bad year

Engle said a bad flu season had been predicted. Colorado has had 3,399 confirmed cases of the flu this season, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Tuesday. That included more than 1,100 reported between Thursday and Monday, the most dramatic surge in the virus in at least five years.

“”It’s crazy,” said Denver pediatrician Dean Prina, who saw 40 children Monday. “”It started earlier this year and seems more intense. It’s among the worst flu seasons I’ve seen in my 23 years.”

Engle said a cause of the surge could be that one of the strains of the virus isn’t included in the flu shot.

“And most children don’t get the flu shot,” she added.

The Centers for Disease Control and prevention recommend that adults and children get the flu shot.

“It’s not too late, the peak time of the flu is later in the winter,” Engle said.

She also recommended parents watch for high fever, sore throat, body aches and chills.

“Young children can die of flu because they develop pneumonia, or in high altitude, because of lack of oxygen,” she said.

If the flu is caught early enough, there are medicines doctors can prescribe to cut the duration of the illness.

“There’s medication to treat the disease, but it needs to be started within two days of the symptoms,” Yarberry said.

Doctors can also give medicines to other family members to prevent transmission.

“I recommend people to wash their hands frequently,” Mary Rogers said. “And if they’re sick, to stay home.”

Glenwood Springs Post-Independent reporter Greg Masse and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Flu facts

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Influenza is a respiratory illness. Symptoms of flu include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.

Although the term “stomach flu” is sometimes used to describe vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea, these illnesses are caused by certain other viruses or bacteria.

Who should get a flu shot?

– Persons with chronic medical conditions.

– Persons over 50.

– Persons who can transmit influenza to those at high risk.

– Anyone who doesn’t want to get sick.

When should you get a flu shot?

November through February is the best time.

Can I get the flu from the flu shot?

No. The flu vaccine is a dead virus vaccine with no living components of the virus. Flu-like reactions, which occurred with vaccines given years ago, are not associated with today’s highly purified vaccines.

To find a clinic to get the flu shot, call 1-888-692-0269. The flu shot costs about $12.

Source: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment


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