Flu warnings remain in mountains | VailDaily.com

Flu warnings remain in mountains

Veronica Whitney

Although there are no more flu vaccines in the Vail Valley, local doctors say there’s no reason to panic. The flu outbreak is waning, at least the one caused by the strain that has killed nine children in Colorado, said Marita Bledsoe, a pediatrician with Colorado Mountain Medical.

Also, the vaccine available isn’t protecting people who get this current strain of influenza, Bledsoe said.

“Today, I’ve only seen one patient compared to 12-a-day last week,” Bledsoe said Thursday. Still, Bledsoe suggests parents keep an eye on their children.

“If they see flu symptoms, they should go to the doctor,” she said. “There’s a medication for the flu and to keep other family members from getting it. I’m saying don’t panic.”

In Denver, cases have also been declining in the past week, said Douglas Benevento, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“The percent of visits due to flu and flu-like illness has declined from a high of 4.1 percent of the visits two weeks ago to 2.9 percent of the visits this week,” Benevento said. “The decline has been more pronounced in pediatricians’ offices where three weeks ago 8.2 percent of the visits were flu related. Last week, the number was 4.7 percent.

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“This is clear evidence that in the Denver metropolitan area flu has peaked,” he added.

As of Wednesday, state health officials had confirmed nine deaths – all children from the Front Range- among 7,600 confirmed flu cases in Colorado this season.

Last year, Colorado had 19 confirmed flu deaths of all ages and 748 deaths due to flu and pneumonia. The elderly and young are considered the most vulnerable because of their weakened or underdeveloped immune systems.

Does the vaccine work?

Although cases are waning, people are concerned because the Vail Vail alley and other places across Colorado have run out of vaccines. Bledsoe said she doesn’t expect more shipments to the Vail Valley.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Thursday packaged 4,090 doses of flu vaccine for shipment to health care providers in Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Boulder. The federal government, which has shipped more than 80 million doses, announced Thursday it is scrambling to ship 100,000 adult vaccine doses to combat the shortages and 150,000 child vaccines are expected in January.

“We have run out of the vaccine this year because there’s been a higher demand than usual for the vaccine by healthy people,” Bledsoe said.

Still, Bledsoe said the vaccine available isn’t protecting people because it doesn’t counteract this year’s virus, called influenza A.

There are two strains of the flu – A and B – and they typically peak at different times. Influenza B will show up in a couple months, Bledsoe said.

“Every year the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sends people all over the world to identify the most prevalent virus and then they make the vaccine,” Bledsoe said. “This year, they did that, but somehow the Influenza A virus changed slightly. And we don’t know yet if the vaccine will help with the Influenza B when it comes.”

New strain

The reason this strain has been harder on children than adults is because it hasn’t hit the U.S. recently, Bledsoe added.

“Most of the adults might have had it before, but a kid’s immune system doesn’t know how to respond to the new virus,” she said. “However, most of the kids who have died had an underlying medical problem.

“I have been encouraging parents not to get the vaccines for the children if they’re over 2 and healthy,” Bledsoe added.

People over 65 and children between 6 months and 2 years and any person who has an underlying medical disorder are advised to get a flu shot.

This outbreak most likely has hit Colorado and California earlier than the rest of the country because of the tourist industry, Bledsoe said.

Colorado had a total of 2,681 confirmed flu cases during the 2002-2003 flu season; 3,558 during the 2001-2002 flu season; 1,518 during the 2000-2001 flu season; and 1,210 during the 1999-2000 flu season, the state department of health reports.

“”I think what we’re seeing is a natural response to concerns about a serious flu season,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding said Friday on NBC-TV’s “”Today” show. “”But we also need to remember that for almost everyone, flu is not such a serious disease. We don’t need to panic or assume that the worst case scenario is going to happen to everyone. Most of us will get through this fine.”

Flu facts

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, bacteria.

On the Net: CDC flu info: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivity.htm

The Associated Press contributed to this story.