The current flu season is now considered an epidemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly every state is reporting widespread cases of flu or flu-like illness. Tennessee is among those states.
“What we're seeing nationwide, we're also seeing at Vanderbilt, where the flu has started early and it's been much more severe than what we saw last year,” said Dr. Joseph Gigante, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt doctors and nurses have seen a steady stream of patients with flu-like illness in recent days and weeks, and have posted flu warning signs on hospital clinic doors.
While the number of flu cases is high, prevention and treatment supplies are low.
Flu shot shortages has been reported across the country, as health officials continue to urge use of the vaccine.
“This year's flu shot is actually a really good match for the flu strains we're seeing out there, so the best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine,” Dr. Gigante said.
Locally, the vaccine is available, but state health department officials told Nashville's News 2 patients may have to go to more than one provider to find it.
As a result of the recent flu outbreak, pharmacies nationwide are also taking stock of Tamiflu, the anti-viral medication used to treat flu-like symptoms in the first two days after symptoms appear.
“What it does, it helps decrease the length of the durations of symptoms, so it may decrease the amount of time that your sick by a day or two if you're able to get the Tamiflu within that 48-hour window when you first get sick,” said Dr. Gigante.
The drug is prescribed in pill form for adults and in liquid form for children.
“It's the liquid that's currently in shortage,” said Vanderbilt Pharmacy Manager Jennifer Almon. “However, there are plenty of capsules still available, and there is an option to make the liquid from a capsule if the suspension were not able to be provided.”
Vanderbilt has been able to keep up with patient demand for prevention and treatment supplies.
According to Brian Todd, spokesperson for Metro Health Department, other local pharmacies, including Rite-Aid, Walgreens and CVS, also have sufficient supplies of flu vaccine and Tamiflu, with additional supplies expected to arrive early next week.
For those already exposed to the influenza virus, evaluation and treatment by a primary care doctor may not be necessary.
“Most people that have the flu actually don't have to go to their doctor,” Dr. Gigante said. “It's just a matter of staying home, getting rest, getting lots of liquids so you don't get dehydrated, taking something like Tylenol and Motrin to help with the fever, help with the muscle aches and pains.”
However, patients who have trouble breathing or dehydration with flu-like symptoms should see a physician to avoid potentially life-threatening flu complications like pneumonia.
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. A respiratory illness infects the nose, throat and lungs. Coughing, sneezing and even talking sends the influenza virus into the air, allowing it to spread to others.
The flu can cause serious illness or life-threatening conditions. Groups at greater risk for flu complications include the young, elderly and those with certain health conditions.
Flu season varies from year to year, but typically runs fall to winter.
The peak of flu season is between January and February. The CDC tracks flu cases between October and May.
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- Jan. 9, 2012: Flu season peak looms over Middle Tenn.
- Jan. 4, 2013: Area doctors see increase in patients suffering from flu
- Dec. 26, 2012: Tennessee sees elevated amounts of influenza
- Dec. 5, 2012: CDC reports high flu activity in Tennessee
- Dec. 5, 2012: Flu vaccines available for uninsured children
- Dec. 4, 2012: Health officials prepare for busy flu season
- Dec. 3, 2012: U.S. flu season starts early, could be bad, CDC says
- Sept. 24, 2012: Metro Health Department opens annual fast track flu clinic
- August 22, 2012: Nashville airport takes steps to keep travelers healthy
- August 15, 2012: Flu vaccines stocked, researchers keep eye on new strain