Fighting the flu: Season gets a late start in South Mississippi


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said the number of reported flu cases in the United States increased during the second week of January.

Mississippi health officials said Friday there have not been a lot of flu cases reported this winter, but they expect to see more over the next couple of months.

"We have verified a strain of influenza strain B, but we

have not seen an increase in activity in Mississippi," said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state epidemiologist.

It's hard to determine when the number of flu cases is going to be highest, Dobbs said, but January and February are traditionally the busiest months.

"We are really getting into the heart of it right now," he said. "When you look at other states around the country, they are seeing a lot more flu than we are, so we know it's on the way. We know we are going to see more and more flu."

Flu on the Coast

Amanda Mizell, a nurse practitioner with Southern Family Urgent Care in Gulfport, said some flu cases have been reported on the Coast.

"We have started seeing it," she said. "We got our first positives (tests) back a few weeks ago."

She said the flu season has gotten a later start than normal. She said early planning may have helped.

"We pushed a lot of our clients to get their shots earlier and so far, we've seen less cases," she said.

But should the season become more aggressive, she said she is prepared.

"We can do the testing quickly in our office and we have the medicine needed to treat the symptoms," she said.

What is flu?

According to the CDC, influenza or flu is a contagious respiratory virus. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are common complications or side effects associated with the virus.

The CDC said although most people recover from the flu within a week or two, complications from the virus can be fatal.

Symptoms include body aches, chills, fever and nausea, Dobbs said.

Anyone can catch the flu, but he said children can be easy targets for the virus.

"(Children) are certainly more likely to be around a lot of people and hygiene is tied into that because most of the transmissions occur from contaminated surfaces," he said. "But older adults and people with compromised immune systems may take longer to recover from the symptoms."

Tamiflu is a prescription medication that can counteract flu symptoms.

Get your shots

There is only one way to prevent the flu, Dobbs said -- by receiving the vaccine, available at most pharmacies for about $25.

"The best thing you can do to prevent the flu and to prevent the bad outcomes from the flu is by getting a flu shot," he said. "It's not too late to get the shot or the nasal spray. If you haven't gotten one, you need to do it."

Another way to help combat the flu is to improve personal hygiene.

"If people will wash their hands more, that will help (stop) the transmission of the flu," Dobbs said, "and so will using hand sensitizers and gels.

"Most flu is spread from touching a contaminated surface and then touching the rest of your body."

And he said if you're sick, stay home.

"The flu is contagious," he said. "If you have it, don't go to work and spread it around the office."

There are several strains of the flu. Sometimes certain strains of the flu can be resistant to vaccines.

Dobb said so far this year, the vaccine has been able to fight off the current strain of the virus going around.

"The strains that have been identified are well-watched the influenza vaccine," he said.

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald