Flu, respiratory viruses surging in region

J. H. Osborne • Feb 11, 2017 at 12:15 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The flu is here, local health officials said Friday, but there’s still time to get a vaccination to protect yourself and your loved ones.

That, however, won’t get you fully protected for about two weeks — the time it takes for vaccinations to become effective.

In 2016, confirmed flu cases in Tennessee peaked in the latter half of February, Dr. Stephen May, medical director for the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, said Friday.

But there has been an increase in reporting of flu-like illness in the county in the past week, May said.

Flu season is typically thought of as September through March — although flu can occur anytime. By early last month, it looked like the peak this year was arriving across the state earlier than last year.

“We are entering into our peak flu season (as a state),” May said then. “January and February are typically peak, although we can see flu year-round. From (Centers for Disease Control) and state numbers ... we are at about 4 percent of ILI. That means influenza-like illness. We consider 2.1 percent our threshold for saying it is widely circulating in our community. And we are at 4 percent statewide.”

At that time, May said the local percentage was lower than 4 percent. The majority of confirmed cases in the state being reported early last month were in West Tennessee.

But by by the fourth week of 2017 (Jan. 22-28), the local percentage of patients with ILI, as reported by sentinel physicians, had reached 4.24 percent, May said.

And by week five (Jan. 29 through Feb. 4) the local percentage reached 5.72 percent, May said — compared to 8.6 percent in Knoxville, 9.9 percent in Shelby County (Memphis), and 24 percent in Madison County (Jackson).

Those are the most recent figures available. Week six ends today.

Local physicians are also seeing a lot of other viruses besides flu, May said.

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, May said the best way to fight the flu is to practice day-to-day hygiene and good respiratory etiquette.

“Just like we have manners at the dinner table, we need to have our infection control manners,” May said. “That includes washing your hands often; don’t touch your eyes; if you’re sick, please stay home; and cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze.”

Even if you don’t think you are particularly vulnerable to the flu and its symptoms, May urged consideration for the high-risk people you encounter: nursing home residents, those with complicated illnesses, diabetics, those with heart disease, pregnant women and those with immuno-deficiency diseases.

May said if you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine this year, supplies are plentiful through local physicians, clinics, and some pharmacies.