By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY December 16, 2003 Flu season is officially here.
With a sort of influenza fever sweeping the nation, cases of the flu have begun popping up all over the county.
According to Sullivan County Public Health Nursing, 18 people were diagnosed alone this weekend in the emergency room at Catskill Regional Medical Center. Included in those figures were a 3-month-old baby, a 6-month-old, a 3-year-old and an 8-year-old.
The challenge, according to Public Health Nursing Director Carol Ryan, is calculating how many cases are actually being reported.
Flu is not a reportable disease, she explained.
Only nursing homes are required to send in information about the occurrence of influenza. But Public Health makes routine phone calls to area physicians to track any outbreaks.
Calls to the emergency room are made every day a practice put in place after Sept. 11 to keep up to date on any medical emergencies that might show a pattern.
The flu always hits Sullivan County, Ryan said, as it does in other parts of the country during the winter.
But, she added, the information out in the media about the disease is at an all-time high, possibly relating to the shortages of the flu vaccine in recent years that brought a lot of public attention.
There is a shortage of the vaccine again this year, Ryan said, but people in Sullivan County can still get inoculated.
Anyone aged 5 to 49 without any secondary health problems is encouraged to ask for the nasal flu vaccine available at any physicians office, Ryan said.
Still in good supply, the nasal vaccine is a weakened strain of a live virus, she noted, so only healthy people are able to take advantage of it.
The shot, encouraged for those with health problems, the elderly and the very young, is a dead virus and will not cause people to become ill, Ryan explained.
The dangers of the flu vary by peoples health and age.
Those under 1 year old or in later years are more likely to have complications from the disease.
There is a possible danger of complications, Ryan explained. You can get secondary infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis which are not caused by the flu virus, but when the immune system is stressed, youre more susceptible.
The symptoms of the flu also vary. Its a respiratory disease, Ryan said, although many people believe that they have the flu when they develop diarrhea.
People should watch out for runny nose, fever, chills, body aches, headache and feeling generally really miserable, Ryan explained.
If they have flu symptoms, they should stay home, she stressed. Its a way to keep flu from spreading.
She also stressed good hygiene, frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough.
Ryan encourages those who have not yet gotten their flu shot to head out to try to get one.
Its not too late, she said, even if you havent gotten the flu shot yet.
The NYS Health Department is trying to obtain more vaccine, she said, and there should still be some available.