Flu season underway

Loudon County Health Department nursing supervisor Judy Hurst, right, gives Loudon County Senior Center Director Becki Wallace a flu shot during a ‘Fight the Flu’ initiative.

With the colder months here, local health representatives are recommending residents get a flu shot in hopes of avoiding illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Tennessee is seeing high levels of flu-like illness across the state.

The Tennessee Department of Health notes locally reports are lower in the East Tennessee region.

Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director, said activity in the county has been “quiet” so far, but part of that could be because the health department doesn’t see as many illness cases and instead focuses on preventative measures and education. Activity could increase in January and February.

Flu season typically begins in October or November and peaks between December and February, lasting potentially as long as May, the CDC reports.

Health department representatives last month participated in a statewide initiative, “Fight the Flu,” which ultimately gave out a little more than 9,000 flu vaccinations across Tennessee. Shots were given at the Loudon County Senior Center.

Although there were not as many people visit as health department representatives wanted — only 12 shots were provided — Harrill said they learned many had already received their vaccination.

“For us in the east region, Jefferson County was the highest — they did about 100-something,” Harrill said. “We did altogether in the east region 748 and that was 16 sites, 16 locations. For the entire state, which included all the regions, metros and everything, 9,238, and there were 175 vaccination clinics across the state.

“... Maybe hopefully it won’t (bad this year) because everybody has gotten their flu shot, and one thing for us ... there’s so many other venues that are offering flu shots,” she added. “I mean you have Walgreen’s, you have the Kroger store. There’s a lot of different people that offer flu shots now so we’re definitely not the only game in town. That’s a good thing. We definitely do not by any means want to be in a competition with anybody.”

Harrill said shots are safe.

“I think the thing to keep in mind is that the flu shot doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the flu. It just guarantees that you won’t die from the flu, which you got to keep that in mind,” Joseph Nowell Jr., Fresh Pharmacy owner and pharmacist, said. “There’s a lot of people like, ‘Well, I got the flu but I got the flu shot.’ Well, yeah, that’s not how it works. The idea is prevention of death, and all you have to do is go back to the 1918 flu epidemic, which wiped out one-third of the planet and millions of people. ... Of course, we have to deal with clientele that are anti-vaccine patients and there’s pro-vaccine patients and there’s sort of everyone in the middle. It’s a challenge to do that.”

The CDC reports during the 2016-17 flu season vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 flu- associated hospitalizations.

Nowell’s pharmacy has provided shots to a “steady” flow of people since September. While his clientele is mostly older, shots are provided to teenagers as well. Children under 7 are encouraged to visit pediatricians.

“The basic premise is that if you have a fever and you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, then the probability is high that you have the flu and you should get checked out,” Nowell said. “You have to pay attention to these symptoms because you’ve got about ... three days for anything to be effective. In the first, I think three days, we act right in there, and get drugs such as Tamiflu onboard and/or elderberry. These things help stabilize the cells that have been infected by the virus because after that period of time has passed, the cells, once they get infected with the virus, they replicate hundreds of times over and then the cells rupture. Once they rupture then you’re sick for two, three weeks, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent. So if you can stabilize the cells and don’t let that happen then your sickness goes away in a couple of days, which is really kind handy to have.”

Nowell emphasized the illness should be caught within a “sweet spot” of two or three days.

“The thing is it comes across as, ‘Oh, I got a head cold,’ but the thing you’re really looking for is the temperature,” he said. “As the body’s temperature rises, that’s sort of the — and, of course, the achy pain, that sort of thing. Some of it sneaks up on you, but once you miss that sweet spot then you’re going to be sick for a while.”

WebMD notes staying home and getting rest, drinking plenty of fluids, treating aches and fever, running a humidifier and taking a decongestant.

A person should stay home at least 24 hours after a fever subsides unless getting medical care or other necessities, the CDC reports.

“We encourage them to wash their hands,” Harrill said of prevention. “The biggest thing they can do is wash their hands, not cough out — I mean, cover their mouth when they cough.”