ELKHART — Influenza season typically peaks in late January or February, but Hoosiers are already coughing, sneezing and wheezing.
The flu and related illnesses are appearing earlier in Indiana and seem to be packing a stronger punch, according the most recent flu report from the state health department. The state has linked seven deaths to the flu since November, but local health officer Dr. Dan Nafziger said he is not aware of any fatal cases in Elkhart County. At this time last year, there were no deaths reported in the state.
“We don’t have a perfect number about influenza cases because most people who get sick probably don’t go to their doctors, and most people who go to their doctors don’t get tested specifically for influenza,” Nafziger said. “They just make a clinical diagnosis and send them home, but we are getting quite a number of positive flu tests, so there’s no question in my mind that influenza is here and in Elkhart County.”
The vaccine for the 2012-13 flu season protects against the three most common strains of influenza — H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B. Cases of all three types have been reported to the state, but H3N2 seems to be the most widespread. H3N2 tends to be more severe than the other strains, Nafziger said.
Though flu season is already in full swing, Nafziger said it’s not too late for people to get vaccinated. The Elkhart County Health Department has been educating the public about flu shots via the Internet, radio ads and newspapers with the help of a $50,000 grant from the state health department.
For the first time, IU Health Goshen Hospital has required staff, volunteers and vendors to be vaccinated for the flu as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In December, a group of employees were fired from the hospital for refusing to get flu shots. Three nurses who spoke out about their dismissals cited religious reasons and worries about long-term health effects.
“Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation and needless fear about flu shots,” Nafziger said. “People have different reasons why they say they don’t want to get a flu shot, but the reality is that it’s a safe and reasonably effective vaccine. It does appear to protect the average person, and that limits the spread to other people who maybe wouldn’t have responded to their flu shot.”
Still, some people do not get vaccinated. There are a few steps people can take to avoid getting sick, Nafziger said.
“The core message would be to cover your cough, wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick,” he said.
State health officials recommend flu vaccinations for anyone ages 6 months and older. Nafziger said pregnant women, the elderly and young children are at a higher risk of contracting the flu, but even healthy people can experience complications from the virus.
SIX COMMON FLU SYMPTOMS
Fever of 100 degrees or higher