Early flu season to bring on the sneezes, coughs - LivewellNebraska.com
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Early flu season to bring on the sneezes, coughs

A rugged, early arriving flu season soon may barrel into the Midlands.

Laboratories had confirmed 27 cases in Douglas County as of late last week, a higher number than usual for this time of year.

The flu has cranked up early nationwide, too, a federal health agency says, particularly in New York and some other states. But predicting the flu’s severity is like forecasting the weather or anticipating how your football team’s defense is going to perform.

“All you can say is, we’re concerned that it could be earlier and it could be a harsh season,” said Dr. Tom Safranek, state epidemiologist in Nebraska. “We don’t know for sure, though.”

With the exception of the H1N1 flu of 2009, this fall’s flu is making its earliest appearance nationwide since 2003-04, a season in which the flu was severe, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Flu statistics are deceiving because many doctors don’t formally test patients for it and some people don’t go to the doctor when they have the flu.

The State of Iowa, for instance, has “sentinel” physicians and clinics that test and report results, which gives authorities a feel for trends.

“We’re seeing a little bit earlier start, but our levels are not super-high right now,” Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, Iowa Department of Public Health medical director, said Tuesday. “I think it will be either typical or a little bit worse than typical.”

The 2011-12 flu season in the metro area was the mildest in nine years. But people haven’t let down their guard down. They are getting their flu vaccinations in similar numbers to last season, said Marty Feltner, vaccination coordinator for Kohll’s Pharmacy & Homecare.

Public health officials recommend people still get their vaccination this season if they haven’t already. The vaccine appears to match well against the flu strains circulating this year, the CDC said.

Officials also recommend regular handwashing, covering one’s cough and staying home from work or school when sick.

The vaccination rate nationwide is about 37 percent, much like last year’s, the CDC said.

Dr. Anne O’Keefe, Douglas County’s senior epidemiologist, agreed that the flu’s start is early locally.

“But the numbers are still pretty low, and it’s still too early to tell exactly what it’s going to do,” O’Keefe said.

Flu symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, lethargy, headache and muscle aches.

Dr. Rudolf Kotula, infectious disease specialist with Methodist Physicians Clinic, said he has seen little flu so far and predicted a mild season.

“We are testing daily,” Kotula said. “But we are not diagnosing flu.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1123, rick.ruggles@owh.com, twitter.com/rickruggles

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