Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
By Eric Adams
Beware - flu bug making early appearance
  It's that time of year again. Americans everywhere are all too familiar with the season of influenza, which brings congestion, coughs and general discomfort.
This year is the first year in a decade that has seen a significant number of influenza cases before Christmas, according to a national report. The Grand Lake area is no exception.
"It's definitely an earlier season than what we're used to," Deb Scheer, epidemiologist for Mercer, Auglaize and Van Wert counties, said.
Nicole Pleiman, director of infection control at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater, said they have seen influenza-related admissions as early as mid-November. That's more than a month prior to the typical post-Christmas arrival.
Scheer cited odd weather patterns as a potential culprit for the early spike but added that's only speculation.
"Viruses mutate and change all the time," she said.
Pleiman also said it's "too early to tell" whether the early arrival of influenza will mean a more intense season overall.
The flu virus has numerous classifications but the most common are influenza A strains H1N1 and H3N2, as well as a prominent strain of influenza B.
A vaccine offered through the Mercer County Health Department protects against all three, Scheer said.
"Anybody 6 months and older should get the shot; it's the single best way to prevent the illness," she said.
Pleiman also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated as early as possible. Flu shots are still available by calling the health department, at some local pharmacies and through the hospital 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Mercer Health Home Care office in Celina.
"It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective," she said.
Scheer said the health department has administered 1,084 vaccines since September, about the same amount as last year.
Two new innovations were brought to the immunization process this year: a drive-through flu clinic held in September and an intradermal vaccine that offers a 90 percent smaller needle to patients ages 18-64. About 22 percent of Mercer County vaccine recipients opted for the intradermal, which is not as invasive but does pose a marginally higher risk of skin itching and irritation, she said.
Scheer encouraged constant caution during flu season, because the virus can be transmitted even by symptomless carriers.
"Most think it's (spread) just by cough," she said. "If you're healthy, you can actually pass the flu to someone a day before symptoms develop."

Flu facts:
Influenza symptoms
• Fever/chills
• Cough and sore throat
• Congestion and headaches
• Fatigue
Tips for containing the virus
• Coughing into the sleeve
• Staying home when ill
• Adequate sleep
• Healthy eating
• Disinfecting frequently handled items such as cellphones, condiment bottles and purses
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website
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