States seeing rise in flu activity

01/04/2011 12:00 AM

01/04/2011 12:05 AM

The season for viral illnesses isn't over.

"My guess is that it's just right now starting to hit," said physician Robert Stangl, medical director of the emergency department at Via Christi Hospital. "There's just a lot of bad stuff out there."

Although what most people have isn't the true flu, it's still enough to make them miserable.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has confirmed a few flu cases from the Wichita metropolitan area, but it considers local flu activity low, according to Kristi Pankratz, director of communication for the state health department.

New data is scheduled for release today. Pankratz expects to see a similar increase in the state soon to follow the national trend.

Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama are experiencing high levels of flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other states are also beginning to see an increase in flu activity.

For now, Stangl said doctors at Via Christi's ER are seeing two influenza-like illnesses affecting patients — a gastrointestinal flu and an upper-respiratory infection. They've been seeing these patients for the past few weeks.

Symptoms of the stomach flu include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and, at times, severe dehydration.

"This GI flu has been really nasty," Stangl said.

With the respiratory infection, patients could have a cough, sore throat, runny nose, some congestion and body aches. Stangl estimated that Via Christi doctors have seen several hundred patients with each infection.

"There's a lot of influenza-like illness out there that's not really influenza that is really making its way through the community," Stangl said.

The flu shot does not protect against stomach flu; however, health officials are urging people to get vaccinated if they haven't.

The flu shots are developed to protect against specific strains. So, Stangl said, although people can still get sick, the vaccine protects them from more serious types of influenza.

Besides getting a flu shot, people should wash their hands frequently and limit contact with secretions from people who are sick, Stangl said.

"The influenza virus doesn't really live too long outside a person's body, so if you're reasonably careful you can keep from getting it," he said.

If people feel sick, they should visit their family physician and stay home and rest. Chest pain or shortness of breath, however, are reasons to consider going to the ER, Stangl said.

"It's not so much the initial illness that you worry about; it's the complications that can develop later on," he said.

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