Fighting the flu

Drew Butler

The Centers for Disease Control released its most recent data on the current flu season on Thursday. For the week ending January 4, 27% of all flu tests (1,591 out of 5,916) came back positive, and out of those tests 79% were positive for influenza B. Toni Roberts, infection control coordinator for Mercy Hospital Ardmore, said the majority of flu cases so far this year in the Ardmore area have also been for type B.

“Here in our region we’re seeing more of the type B which is kind of unusual for this time of year, but recently we’ve also been seeing the number of type A also starting to go up,” Toni Roberts said, adding that the difference between the two types of flu come down to the virus itself. “Typically we say that A is worse than B or that B might be a milder form of it, but if you’re already immunocompromised or in poor health, type B can be just as bad.”

While type B may not always be as severe as type A, Toni Roberts said the state of Oklahoma (and the majority of the nation) remains under high alert for the flu. The region of the state that includes Carter County and surrounding counties is currently listed as number three in the state for the amount of new cases.

“The most important thing you can do is get a flu vaccination, and that comes straight from the CDC,” Toni Roberts said. She added that there are actually two types of flu shots available, the traditional shot given to most people and a higher dosage version reserved for those ages 65 and older.

“Getting the flu shot is not necessarily going to prevent you from getting the flu, but it may help your flu case be less severe than it would have been without it.”

She also urged everyone to regularly wash their hands to reduce the chance of catching the flu. She also urged everyone to remember to cover their mouth when coughing and to always stay at home if you think you might be infected. Unfortunately, people can unknowingly be carrying and spreading the virus 24 to 48 hours prior to showing symptoms, but staying home can still help contain the spread of influenza.

Toni Roberts said It was especially important not to continue spreading the illness because those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to contracting the flu and developing additional complications such as pneumonia or even death. Because of this the hospital has visiting rules in place for patients, but those with reduced immune systems are also more vulnerable to the illness within the public at large.

“Those receiving cancer treatment, high doses of steroids, transplant patients, pregnant mothers and even elderly patients are all at a higher risk of catching the flu and developing more complications from it,” Toni Roberts said.

She pointed out that while typically a fever accompanies the flu, that is not always the case.

“The flu typically has more of a sudden onset,” Toni Roberts said. “You can tell me what time of day you started feeling bad, and within four hours you’re in bed. With a cold it’s usually a slower onset that builds up before you start feeling bad.”

She said that once flu symptoms have subsided people should wait 24 hours with no fever and without the aid of any fever reducing medications before going out into public and resuming their normal activities.

Clay Roberts, clinical coordinator of the emergency department for Mercy Hospital Ardmore, said the E.R. has seen a wide range of patients coming in with the flu this season.

“It’s really been all ages, but it can be worse for young children and the elderly. It really affects them harder,” Clay Roberts said. “So far this year we’ve had people through who say they’ve had their flu shot and people who say they haven’t had their flu shot. But that really is one of your best defenses, and it's never too late to go get the flu shot.”

He said once someone is diagnosed with the flu, antiviral medications such as Tamiflu can help lessen the symptoms and also helps people recover quicker.

“It can last from 48 hours up to five or six days,” Clay Roberts said. “We tell people to continue drinking plenty of fluids and taking medications like ibuprofen for a few days even after they are fever free.”