The flu is here, but not as bad as some spots
• Wash your hands. Lots.
• Cover your cough.
• Get a flu shot.
• Stay home if you are sick.
GARFIELD COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
945-6614 in Glenwood
625-5200 in Rifle
You probably can tell this in your workplace: Garfield County is off to a fast start to the flu season.
At least 21 people have been hospitalized this winter with flu in the county, more than twice as many as at this point last year, said Laurel Little, a nurse manager with Garfield County Public Health.
“We have seen a pretty steep increase in hospitalizations from December to now,” she said, but no deaths have been attributed to the flu in the county.
The early large number “doesn’t mean that overall it’s going to be a worse flu season than last year,” Little said. “The flu season varies and peaks at different times” from year to year.
The patients hospitalized in the county have ranged in age from infants to people older than 65 — who are considered at highest risk from the sickness. All age groups have been represented among the 21 hospitalized, but the majority have been older than 65.
Schools in the area appear not to have been hit any harder than a normal year, district representatives said, though a few buildings in the Roaring Fork district covering Basalt to Glenwood Springs have seen spikes.
Statewide, flu is widespread and elevated, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in its report last week. Two pediatric flu deaths were reported in Colorado in December after none in the 2013-14 season.
Through Jan. 3, 1,903 hospitalizations had been reported in 50 of the state’s counties.
The state said the flu may have peaked around Christmas, but Mesa County reported an increase, and Little said Garfield County hasn’t yet seen a decline.
The Grand River Hospital District has recorded 127 patients testing positive for flu at its clinics and emergency room in Rifle since the start of the season, said Tina Moon, the district’s infection preventionist. She said cases began to increase the week of Dec. 21 and have held steady since.
Nationwide, 26 pediatric flu deaths had been reported through Jan. 3. On Friday, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urged doctors to prescribe drugs such as Tamiflu to patients showing flu-like symptoms. He said the season is shaping up to be harsh and said CDC doctors have found such antiviral drugs, which have been criticized as ineffective, to be helpful if prescribed early.
Part of the problem this year is that the vaccine “is not well matched,” Little said, to the flu strain that’s causing most of the illness, a mutated variety of H3N2. The CDC in December warned that only about half of this year’s early cases match the vaccine.
It takes too long to make the vaccine to change it for this season, but Little and others say it’s still worthwhile to get a shot if you haven’t. Shots are available from health care providers, many stores or from the county health department.
“We think it provides some protection” against H3N2 and does protect against three other strains Little said.
Colloquial use of the word “flu” often refers to digestive ailments that cause vomiting and diarrhea, but influenza actually is a respiratory ailment accompanied by fever, body aches, a sore throat and cough, typically more severe than cold symptoms.
Little urged people who are sick to stay home. Don’t go to work, don’t go to school and don’t visit people in long-term care facilities.
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Roaring Fork Schools volunteers who have already completed a comparable background check through an approved entity would be good to go.