Dr. Schauf: flue season here -- get your shot now

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Dr. Schauf: flue season here -- get your shot nowThe good news is that, so far, we are not having an influenza epidemic. However, we are having an annual winter peak of influenza and colds, according to Dr. Victoria Schauf, who practices at Pediatrics Plus, 409 W. Drummond Ave.

During the 2011 peak flu season, 15 patients were hospitalized in Ridgecrest for influenza, including five in the intensive care unit. One woman in her 30s died.

“These sad events were totally preventable by use of a simple flu shot, which at worst could cause a sore arm,” said Schauf. She emphasized that the flu shot cannot cause flu.

Flu shots are now widely available — not only from doctors, but also at pharmacies all over town.

“Everyone in America over the age of six months is supposed to get a flu shot,” said Schauf. “It’s very, very safe. The more people get immunized, the fewer cases of flu happen. You not only protect yourself, you protect others, too.”

The particular strains of flu that have been seen so far this year are different than the one seen in 2011. Schauf said that this year there are two strains showing up, called A and B. The current flu shots improve immunity against both.

“They’re clinically very similar, but not identical,” she said. “The B strain is what’s circulating right now in the community. If you’re running a high fever, have a horrible cough and feel achy all over, then you probably have flu rather than a cold.”

She went on to say that during the first 48 hours, there are antiviral drugs that are effective if given early. The drugs have less effectiveness later in the illness.

Schauf advised everyone to take basic precautions such as frequent handwashing, coughing into your elbow, not sharing cups, and practicing general good hygiene.

“Flu generally lasts a week or 10 days if untreated. You’ll feel tired after that. In a bad case of true influenza, it can last two weeks and you’ll feel really fatigued afterward. You’re sick a long time and feel horrible, with a low energy level after it’s over.”

Flu vaccine has to be given each year, as the virus changes. In addition, she noted that families who get immunized against flu have less respiratory disease overall, not just less flu.

So far, she has not noticed many hospitalizations from flu this season. “Any strain of human flu that causes disease can cause really severe problems in those who are susceptible,” she said.

While flu normally is riskiest for babies, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, anyone can get it. The flu shots build up the body’s immunity; 70 percent of those who get flu shots do not get flu, and the 30 percent who do have a much milder case than they would have without the shot.

“Eventually, if we are able to immunize most people, we will see a huge drop in the number of flu cases,” she said.

Currently, a respiratory virus infection is also being seen around Ridgecrest, called a respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is generally seen in infants and children younger than four years. The infection causes upper and lower respiratory symptoms and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than age one. RSV is different from flu and is not included in flu shots.

Story First Published: 2013-01-09