Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valley spared flu, so far

However, virus could still impact valley


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Dr. Julie Lyons gives a presentation at St. Luke’s Hailey Clinic on cold and flu viruses. The flu has yet to slam the Wood River Valley this season, but it could be on its way. Photo by David N. Seelig

One year ago this week, the "Ketchum crud" was in full swing, plaguing workplaces, taxing immune systems and making much of the populace generally miserable.

While there's no way to know what kind of impact the flu will have this year, preventative action to ward off cold and flu viruses, or at least minimize their impact, is a good idea this time of year.

"It's always worse in winter," said Dr. Julie Lyons, a family medicine specialist with St. Luke's. "You're still going to have a summer cold here and there, but most of them are going to come in the winter."

Lyons gave a presentation, "The Flu and Other Icky Winter Bugs," on Feb. 8 at St. Luke's Clinic in Hailey.

The clinic has so far this season seen four different types of respiratory viruses and two stomach viruses.

"We expect a few more to come through and hit the valley," she said.

There are hundreds of thousands of viruses that cause colds, so getting a cold doesn't necessarily build immunity to another one. Neither does it mean you are immune-deficient, Lyons said.

Flu on the march

The clinic has confirmed only one case of the flu so far this season, Lyons said. Though the flu has yet to have a major impact, it might be around the corner.

Lyons checks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website frequently to track the flu state by state. She said states surrounding Idaho are being hit with the flu, so cases are likely to increase here soon.

"It's sporadic in Idaho," she said. "Probably within a few weeks we're going to see more cases of influenza."

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Mary Jensen, epidemiology program manager for the South Central Health District, said the strains of flu likely to be seen in Idaho were covered by inoculations given last fall.

To track the flu's creep across the country, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm.

Distinguishing between a cold and the flu can come down to type and severity of symptoms.

"Do you have those horrible body aches? It's like a cold times 100," Lyons said. "Those are indicators of flu."

Get them gone

Grandma may have been on the right track with some of her home remedies. At the very least, Lyons said, chicken soup and hot tea with honey won't do harm.

A few easy precautions can help protect against illness in the first place: Get lots of rest, drink fluids, practice good personal hygiene and avoid smoking and alcohol.

Viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours, so keep your environment sanitary and wash your hands frequently. A quick rinse won't do the trick. Lyons suggests singing "Happy birthday" or "Row, row, row your boat" twice—to get in a full, 20-second wash—as you rub your hands together vigorously.

"The scrubbing is what decontaminates you," she said.

Lyons also said zinc can decrease the duration and severity of colds.

"The minute you feel a cold coming on, that little tickle in the back of your throat, start your zinc," she said.

As always, consult your doctor before beginning any treatment, especially if you're pregnant or in a high-risk group.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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