It’s not too late.With the duration and spread of the ongoing flu epidemic still topping the national headlines, health care providers are pleading with stubborn hold-outs to come in for a cheap, painless flu vaccination.“We’re seeing significant numbers of cases, far more than we typically see,” said Dr. Amber Hyde, a family physician at Methodist Mansfield Medical Group on East Broad Street.She’s also seen flu-ridden people who had already had an inoculation.The flu vaccine this year is far from perfect. Hyde said it’s only about 62 percent effective because the makers of the vaccine did not include protection from the prevalent H2N2 strain.Still, experts say, flu shots spare most would-be victims from several days to a week or more of misery.At Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, about 30 percent of people screened tested positive for the flu virus, said Donna Crimmins-Bonnell, a registered nurse and director of quality for the hospital“To have that many positives is phenomenal,” she said.The hospital had its first positive case in late September, about two months earlier than normal. From Sept. 23 to Jan. 13, the staff conducted 1,890 screenings, with 433 of those positive, Crimmins-Bonnell said.During the first two weeks of January, the hospital did 561 screens and found 161 positive, a dramatic increase over the same period in January 2012, when 67 screenings resulted in only one positive, she said.Since Dec. 9, the hospital has admitted 29 flu patients, most of whom had underlying medical conditions that made them more vulnerable, Crimmins-Bonnell said.Flu symptoms for most people will strike suddenly with body aches and high fever -- a temperature of 101 degrees or more -- Hyde said. Other symptoms such as headaches, nausea, cough and sniffles usually follow.“With a cold, you’re a little miserable, but you’re functional,” Hyde said. But with the flu, she said, “you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, and you can’t function at your job.”Because the flu viruses can live a short time on surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, phones, pens and desks, frequent hand washing for at least 15 or 20 seconds is highly recommended, said Debra Culmer, infection prevention manager at the hospital.If you want an alternative to counting: “One of the ways for people to know they’ve been washing their hands for 15 seconds is to sing “Happy Birthday,” Culmer said.Crimmins-Bonnell said the hospital staff is doing its part to reduce flu cases -- and recommends other businesses and organizations do the same. At each hospital entrance, there are tissues, hand sanitizers, masks and other flu-fighter supplies.“We also encourage our employees to stay home if they have any symptoms so we can protect our patients and fellow employees,” she said.Although schools typically are a robust breeding ground for flu cases, the Mansfield school district reports no more than a handful of flu-stricken students, said spokesman Richie Escovedo.“Thankfully, that hasn’t been that big of an issue for us,” Escovedo said. “We’re continuing to encourage students through the campus nurses to make sure they follow health procedures such as washing their hands.”
Common flu symptoms: headache, fever, cough, sore throat, nausea, body aches and extreme fatigue. A cold differs from the flu in that a cold stays up in the head and doesn’t generally prevent sufferers from going about their business.
How the flu spreads: people coughing and sneezing, our touching doorknobs, phones, keyboards and other surfaces where virus can live a short time and then putting their hands to their eyes, mouth or nose.
Who should get vaccinated: Everyone, especially people over age 50, children, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions. Tarrant County Public Health recommends the vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.
Tips to avoid the flu:
* Frequently wash hands with soap and water, scrubbing for 15 to 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizing gel.
* Keep your hands away from your mouth, eyes and nose.
* Avoid people who are sick, and stay home if you’re sick, to avoid infecting classmates or fellow workers.
* Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow to trap the germs.
Where to get flu vaccination:
Your doctor’s office, many Walgreens, CVS and other pharmacies as well as many grocery stores and Tarrant County Public Health’s six public health centers, which charge $20 for the shots. Prices vary elsewhere, but some insurance plans pay the full cost.
To find a local provider of flu vaccinations, go to www.flu.gov and type in your ZIP code. For more information or questions, call 817-248-6299.
Sources: Methodist Mansfield Medical Center and Tarrant County Public Health.