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Increasing reports of flu-like symptoms

February 13, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
It's making headlines in some local papers -- hospitals and clinics are reporting a rise in patients with flu-like symptoms. After a very light flu season last year, this recent surge is prompting some to ask if the flu vaccine is working.Fever, chills, dry cough and body aches -- they're just some of the symptoms of the influenza virus, which seems to be on the rise late this season.

Over the last few weeks, there's been a surge of patients reporting flu-like symptoms. Fifteen children have been hospitalized locally, and as many as 30 states across the country are seeing an increase as well.

"It has been increasing over the past few weeks, and emergency rooms are having problems with crowding due to people with respiratory illness," said Dr. Jonathon Fielding, the director of the L.A. City Department of Public Health.

Can the flu vaccine help? Dr. Fielding explains every year the influenza vaccine is adjusted with three new strains of the virus.

"This year, 1 is a very good match. Two is a somewhat good match. And the third, which is a type of influenza B, is not a terribly good match," said Dr. Fielding. "So about half, or a little more, of the strains that have been reported to the Center of Disease Control are a good match."

If you haven't received your vaccine yet, it's not too late.

"What's important, and the reason to get vaccinated against influenza, is it's the most aggressive virus in terms of respiratory illness. The other ones give you less intense symptoms, on average," said Dr. Fielding.

But many people with flu-like symptoms may not have the flu at all. Yet they may still be contagious.

So what's the best way to avoid getting and spreading the flu, or any other virus?

  • Wash your hands repeatedly with soap for 20-to-30-seconds each time
  • Cover your cough and sneeze
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth -- that's how many people pick up the influenza bug
  • If you're sick, don't go to work
  • Don't send a sick child to school, either

"The difficulty with influenza is that you can be infectious for a day or so before you have any symptoms," said Dr. Fielding. "So even if you do all that, there's still going to be some influenza around."

Dr. Fielding says though this is a moderate year so far, the flu season can run into April, and even May -- and the numbers can continue rising. He adds the young and the elderly are most at risk because the flu can trigger complications and worsen underlying conditions.

 

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