State flu epidemic grips Eagle County |

State flu epidemic grips Eagle County

David O. Williams

While there have been no flu-related deaths yet in Eagle County, the 2003-04 influenza epidemic that’s sweeping the state has been equally pronounced in our mountain community.Local health officials say there have been an increased number of flu cases this season compared to last, and that supplies of vaccine are running low. Only people in high-risk categories the elderly, young children and those with chronic diseases, especially affecting the respiratory system are eligible for flu shots.Perhaps most alarming, children have been hardest hit by the virus this season, with nine confirmed deaths and two suspected deaths statewide. Officials are urging parents to monitor their children carefully and seek care immediately for children experiencing difficulty breathing, prolonged fever or evidence of dehydration (see box).”We’re seeing a lot more (flu cases) in terms of numbers than we expected,” says Dr. Janet Engle, a pediatrician with Colorado Mountain Medical. “I’m still seeing a lot of cases up here, especially in the younger populations not so much in the older adolescents, but in the preschool and elementary school populations.”Engle says some local children have been admitted to Vail Valley Medical Center with severe flu symptoms, and others have been sent to Children’s Hospital in Denver for treatment, but so far there have been no cases in Eagle County as severe as those resulting in deaths along the Front Range.According to registered nurse Linda Brophy, infection control coordinator at Vail Valley Medical Center, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Influenza Surveillance report shows a total of 92 cases of flu in Eagle County between Sept. 28 to Dec. 6 (51 cases of type A; 0 cases of type B; and 41 unspecified).Statewide there have been 7,600 confirmed cases thus far, compared to 2,681 confirmed cases all of last season. The actual number of cases is much higher because many people don’t seek treatment, aren’t tested for the flu, or their infection goes unreported.Brophy says that while flu has been taking an early and increased toll in Eagle County, other childhood maladies such as whooping cough, croup, RSV and bronchulitis have not been on the rise.Still, local health officials are pushing for the usual precautionary measures to prevent the spread of flu and other bugs.”People get tired of us saying this, but wash you hands, wash your hands, wash your hands, and if you’re sick, stay home from work,” says Sarah Schipper, public health nurse manager for Eagle County (see box).Despite increasing numbers of cases of infection from a sub-type known as the Fujian Strain, Schipper notes that the flu vaccine this season is still the best preventative measure to avoid getting the flu.”Seventy-eight percent nationwide is type A, and that’s what we’re seeing here in Colorado,” Schipper says. “Of all the things you can do to protect yourself, getting a flu shot is still right up there at the top. It’s not a perfect match, but that’s not unusual; that can happen year to year viruses change.”But because of the flu hitting harder and about a month earlier than usual, supplies of the vaccine locally are tight. Schipper recommends calling a public health nurse (328-8840 in Eagle and 949-7026 in Avon) to see if you’re in one of the high-risk categories.”(Flu season is) earlier this year than usual and we’ll just have to see if this lasts,” Schipper says. “Usually it peaks after a month or so and then goes down.”The severity of flu season so far in Colorado has grabbed state and national headlines in recent weeks, particularly because of the number of childhood deaths, but ski company officials say they have not been inundated with concerned calls. Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga says the company’s reservations department has not had any questions about the flu epidemic in Colorado.When to contact a physician Call if the child has a high fever that does not respond to over-the-counter fever medications, including acetominophen or ibuprofen. This could signal a more serious infection. Do not give children or adolescents who are sick with flu or fever aspirin or medications containing salicylates, such as some medications used for nausea, vomiting and diarrhea Also, the fever of flu usually lasts three-to-five days. Parents should call their health care provider if their child’s fever lasts longer or returns. Call if your child is listless or has no interest in playing or other activities, especially after their fever comes down after acetominophen or ibuprofen. Call if your child is inconsolable, that is, irritable and cannot be calmed down. Call if your child is not drinking fluids or not keeping fluids down. Poor fluid intake can lead to dehydration, which can be very serious in children. Prolonged diarrhea can also lead to dehydration. Call if your child has difficulty breathing, or exhibits fast, hard breathing. Flu is a respiratory disease that can infect the lungs, and if your child is working hard to breathe, your health care provider will need to assess the situation.Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and EnvironmentWho should get the vaccine People over 50 years of age. Adults and children with a chronic disease like diabetes or chronic disorders of the lungs and heart. Anyone whose immune system is weakened because of HIV/AIDS or other diseases that effect the immune system. Anyone 6 months to 18 years of age on long-term aspirin treatments. Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season. Physicians, nurses, family members, child-care workers or anyone coming in close contact with people at risk of serious influenza. Parents of otherwise healthy children, ages 6 to 23 months, should discuss getting a flu shot for those children with their health care provider. Anyone who does not want to get the flu.Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and EnvironmentTo stay healthy and prevent spread Clean hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible. Get vaccinations for flu and pneumonia as recommended for your age and health conditions. Vaccines for these diseases can prevent some serious respiratory illnesses. If sick, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue in a wastebasket. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve, not into your hands. After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, always clean your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Stay home when you are sick.Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

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