Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Flu-like virus remains unidentified

Physician reports fewer cases over past week


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

Taylor Whitby, an employee of Valley Apothecary in Ketchum, receives a flu shot from pharmacist Paula Shaffer earlier this month. Photo by Roland Lane

Physicians at St. Luke’s Wood River are still “scratching their heads” over whether a flu-like illness that has swept the Wood River Valley since just before the winter holidays is or is not influenza. However, an emergency physician did say that the number of new cases of both the flu and the flu-like virus has gone down over the past week.

“Your readers might be dismayed that doctors don’t know what this illness is,” emergency physician Keith Sivertson said.

However, he said “rapid” flu tests, the kind you take at the doctor’s office, have a sensitivity of only about 60 percent.

“That means if you tested 100 people that you knew had influenza, only 60 would come back positive,” he said. “That’s not much better than a coin toss.”

Sivertson said the flu-like virus could be “anything,” including the flu. However, he said as far as symptoms and treatment are concerned, the flu and the mystery virus are very similar and St. Luke’s is treating both with the same general approach.

To subdue symptoms, Sivertson suggests rest, hydration and over-the-counter fever-reducing pain medicines such as Tylenol or Motrin.

“Tylenol and Motrin don’t share toxicity between them,” he said. “You can take a dose of each only every six hours, but you can alternate between them every three hours.”

Sivertson also recommended that sick people maintain even a minimal calorie intake, especially children.

“If you have no appetite, you can get all the calories you need from sugary liquids,” he said.

He said it is critical to provide your body with the energy it needs to battle infection.

As far as prevention is concerned, Sivertson recommended thorough and frequent hand washing, using hand sanitizer and coughing into one’s elbow as opposed to into one’s hands. However, he offered a few less well-known tips as well.

“The dry air here dehydrates people and breaks down mucous that provides a barrier against infection,” he said. “It’s the inside air that’s the worst—it gets drier when you heat it.”

Sivertson recommended using a humidifier or a “soaked towel hanging in the bathroom with the door open” at night to help moisten inside air. He recommended drinking at least two liters of fluids per day, especially in the winter. He also said it’s not too late to get a flu shot and that it’s still a good idea to do so.

According to a Jan. 11 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website post, this year’s flu vaccine is 62 percent, or “moderately” effective. However, Sivertson said he believes the shot has helped emergency room staff members significantly reduce missed work days.

Sivertson said if a sick person’s symptoms, particularly the fever, last more than two weeks or develop into a productive chest cough, that person should seek medical attention as he or she could have a bacterial infection such as pneumonia, strep throat or sinusitis.


Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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