No serious flu complications reported here

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Of the 26 lab-confirmed influenza cases reported at Central Peninsula General Hospital since Dec. 8, none has come with serious complications.

"No one has had any serious complications, meningitis or encephalitis," said Dr. Stephen Hileman, a CPGH Emergency Department physician, last week.

In 36 states other than Alaska, the deaths of 42 children have been attributed to an influenza epidemic this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since mid-November, Alaska has seen widespread influenza activity, similar to the activity reported in other western states, according to the state of Alaska Epidemiology.

The predominant circulating flu strain in the United States is influenza A/Fujian/411/2002 (H3N2), which is slightly different than the A/Panama/2007/99 (H3N2) component in this year's flu vaccine.

Hileman said CPGH is screening for the influenza A and B strains. More laboratory testing to isolate specific variations of the two strains are done by the state and by CDC in Atlanta.

Presence of the A/Fujian strain of influenza has not been confirmed on the Kenai Peninsula.

The state health division also has not confirmed the presence of the A/Fujian strain in Alaska.

"To the best of my knowledge, it is not in the state," said Kerre Fisher, information officer for the state Division of Public Health, on Monday.

Hileman said the best strategy for preventing the flu continues to be vaccination.

Although the A/Fujian strain antigen is not included in this year's influenza vaccine, the CDC has advised that the A/Panama component is closely related and should offer some cross-protection.

Vaccine manufacturers in the United States have reported that all flu vaccine has been distributed already this year and CDC is seeking to redistribute the vaccine from areas with abundant supplies to areas in need.

Fisher said adequate supplies are available in Alaska and on the Kenai Peninsula for people in high-risk categories including children from 6 to 23 months; adults over 65; folks with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or HIV; and women in their second and third trimester of pregnancy.

Robin Nyce, a public health nurse in Kenai, said one reason the vaccine is being restricted to high-risk people is that most people who get the flu, suffer for about a week and make it through the disease without a problem.

The restriction applies only to supplies of the influenza vaccine held by the state Division of Public Health. Some private physicians also may have some remaining vaccine.

"We don't track the private providers' supply," Fisher said.

In addition to vaccination, CPGH recommends other flu preventive measures including frequent hand washing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth; avoiding close contact with people who are sick, if possible; and covering coughs.

A bulletin being distributed at the hospital states that serious respiratory illnesses including influenza are spread by coughing or sneezing and unclean hands.

To stop the spread of germs when sick, the bulletin advises the following:

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue in a waste basket.

If you don't have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve.

After coughing or sneezing, always clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

Stay home when you are sick.

Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels or other personal items.

Distinguishing between a cold and a flu can be tricky, but Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC offers some tips.

"Colds generally creep up on people and are associated with runny nose and a lot of nasal congestion, sore throat and sneezing," she said.

Those symptoms of congestion, sneezing and runny nose are less common with flu.

She also said colds usually begin gradually while flu is more likely to have a sudden onset. Colds rarely involve fever, while influenza almost always involves fever, sometimes with temperatures above 102 degrees.

Gerberding also said flu is mainly characterized by aches, sore bones and muscles and tiredness.

Among children with the flu, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea also are common.

She said when people do have the flu, it's best to stay home and rest, maintain hydration and take over-the-counter medications to address specific symptoms.

Although flu vaccinations are recommended for late fall, the flu season typically runs from late fall to early spring, so it's still not too late to get a flu shot.

People in the high-risk categories can contact the Division of Public Health at 630 Barnacle Way in Kenai. Others can check with their personal physician.

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