Every winter the dreaded influenza virus makes its way through Rim country.
Last week, Dr. Karen Lewis, emergency preparedness medical coordinator from the Arizona Department of Health Services, came to Payson to give a talk on the flu to local health care providers.
After the lecture, the Roundup interviewed Lewis, the infection control specialist at Payson Regional Medical Center, Dee Pederson, and local doctor, Judith Hunt. They were asked some frequently asked questions about the flu.
How important is it to get a flu shot?
"People need to get the influenza vaccine shot every year -- 36,000 people die from it every year," Lewis said. "Most people won't die from the flu and the people at greatest risk are primarily the elderly with heart and lung problems and weakened immunity. Infants are at higher risk of complications as well."
Who should get the influenza vaccine?
Everyone, Lewis said. "The vaccine can be given to those age 6 months and up. It's especially important for those at high risk of complications from influenza, people over the age of 50, children 0-23 months and pregnant women in their second and third trimesters," she said. "We want to get pregnant women immunized because it protects them but also the antibodies pass across the placenta and the baby is protected for awhile.
"Next year, the American Academy of Pediatrics is going to recommend that all children, 6 months to 2-years-old be vaccinated on a yearly basis because a 1-year-old is just as likely to be hospitalized with influenza as their grandparents are."
"I call my families that have young babies -- that whole family is getting immunized," Hunt said.
"Health care workers need to get the vaccine so they don't come down with the disease and give it to their patients," Pederson said.
How do I know I have the flu?
"Influenza is a different illness. It's a sudden onset of a high fever -- you hurt all over and feel like a truck has run over you," Lewis said. "It's not just a simple runny nose."
"We have three viruses here in Payson," Hunt said. "One that imitates the flu, a gastrointestinal virus, and influenza. In children, all three look similar but in adults we can usually tell which one it is. We also have the availability of a rapid influenza test at the hospital."
How is the flu spread?
The flu is spread through droplets in the air and from surfaces, Lewis said. "It's a good idea to stand at least three feet away from someone who is coughing. The influenza virus can live on surfaces for about two hours."
Can I get the flu from the vaccine?
"You cannot get the flu from the influenza vaccine," Pederson said.
Lewis said you get a mild form of the flu from the intranasal influenza vaccine which is a live vaccine.
"The virus in the intranasal vaccine cannot grow at normal body temperature, so it won't spread to the lungs," Lewis said. "It stays in your nose."
Lewis said that with the influenza shot, it takes two weeks for your body to get the full amount of antibodies.
"Some people think they got the flu from the shot, but they were exposed to the flu before the vaccine was fully effective," Lewis said.
Are two flu shots better than one?
"Most people do not need two flu shots," Lewis said. "Children under age 9 who have never been vaccinated need to have two doses, a month apart."
Why did we run out of flu shots?
"You have to project six months ahead of time what is going to be in the vaccine and in this country there has never been more than 80 million doses sold," Lewis said. "The last few years, the companies have made close to 95 million doses and they just weren't used. They need to operate in the black and they estimate what they think we need -- they made it and it's been used up."
What if I didn't get a flu shot?
The live, nasal vaccine is an option for healthy people between ages 5 to 49, according to Hunt.
"It's harder for us to get because it has to remain frozen until it's warmed and used immediately," Hunt said. "Our pharmacies don't have the type of freezer to keep it frozen for a very long time, so when it arrives here in town, it has to be given that day. We are experimenting with how to do this with some of the patients that didn't get the flu shot initially."
Lewis said there are some anti-viral medications that can shorten the flu if given within the first 48 hours and can offer some protection against getting the disease.
"The anti-virals are in short supply because with the shortage of the shot, some people are needing to take the anti-virals to prevent the influenza," Lewis said.
"Doctors are also using the anti-virals for treatment with all the people who are in the hospital."
How can I prevent my family and myself from getting the flu besides getting the vaccine?
"Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your nose or eyes," Lewis said.
"We are encouraging people at Wal-Mart, bank tellers, pastors -- anyone with a lot of public contact, to use the isogels like Purell between contact with people," Hunt said.
"Wash your hands with an anti-bacterial soap for 10-15 seconds, as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday to yourself," Pederson said. "Don't use a common cup or common hand towels. Get plenty of rest and have a good, nutritious diet."
When should you see a doctor or go to the ER?
"Most people who get influenza will feel miserable for three or four days and be tired for a few weeks," Lewis said. "If they are having problems breathing or are disoriented, or you have a child that is dehydrated, you should go to the emergency room."
"To me, if the thought even crosses a patient's mind that they should go to the hospital, they need to either go to the ER or call their doctor," Hunt said.
"As parents we are the ones who are protecting our children, so if you have a child that is listless, not drinking or eating -- all they want to do is lay in your arms and whimper -- those parents need to bring their children in."
What about taking herbal or vitamin supplements -- will they help prevent the flu?
"In general, vitamins won't prevent infection and won't make you better much faster," Lewis said.
"I can't promise that it's going to help, but the flu shot will help," Hunt said. "If you want to spend your money on something -- get a flu shot."