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Flu bug bites Lake County

The Centers for Disease Control reported that there were 22,048 cases of flu in the U.S. between the end of September and December 31 -- a figure 26 times higher than the previous year. It also indicated that Minnesota is among 24 states with the highest levels if Influenza Like Illness, or ILI.

St. Louis and Lake counties have seen increased cases of ILI. Symptoms may include a fever of over 100 degrees, along with body aches, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, headache and fatigue.

"Not every case is diagnosed... but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we treat it like a duck," explained Brad Alm, manager of Lake View Clinic in Two Harbors. "Lake View has taken note of advice from the Minnesota Department of Health advising patients presenting with influenza-like illness to be treated with appropriate advice and medications for influenza."

Lake County has had no deaths or hospitalizations for the flu in the current outbreak Alm said, but there have been more and earlier cases of ILI this year.

Sara Preston, public health nurse at the Lake County Health Department, concurred. While she said she hasn't seen the figures, she noted that "anecdotally, it seems that there are a lot more people with flu than in years past. The number of cases has increased faster and earlier."

With cases on the rise both nationally and locally, health care providers have been urging people to take precautions to avoid coming down with the bug. The CDC, Preston and Alm all agree on first line of defense: a flu shot.

"Getting vaccinated is the number one way to avoid getting the flu," Preston said.

Added Alm: "It's the least harmful, most effective way to keep yourself and others around you healthy. Vaccinations are a good thing." He also pointed out the importance of practices like hand washing, covering a cough and staying home to protect others from the virus.

Although it is acknowledged that the flu shot does not prevent the illness in all cases, CDC director Tom Frieden announced on Jan.11 that recent numbers show the vaccine is 62 percent effective.

"You can say that 62 percent is certainly far less than we wish it would be. But it's a glass 62 percent full or a 62 percent reduction in the number of people who would be going to doctor's offices if they hadn't been vaccinated. So it's certainly well worth the effort," he said.

Preston reported that more than 200 people have been vaccinated against the flu this season, so stores of the vaccine are limited. But she still encourages people to come forward and get a shot.

"It's not too late and we can get more (vaccine) if we need it," she assured.

Need a flu shot? Call the Lake County Health Department at 834-8400 in Two Harbors or 226-4444 in Silver Bay. Already have symptoms? Call the urgent care or clinic in your area.