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Ache watch: Full-fledged flu season smacks bay area

Feeling lousy? Or lonely, because your office podmate is home sick? Welcome to flu season 2009.

More than half of the country — including the Tampa Bay area — is seeing a bump in flu cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Public health officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have observed a late-season spike in flu illnesses. The worst seems to have passed, but some doctors still report high traffic from people with the familiar, icky symptoms — high fever, achy muscles, dry coughing.

"We're not dealing with just the pollen in the air, which is very thick right now, or with just a spring cold," said Dr. Nathan Keith Waldrep, medical director of Bayfront Convenient Care Clinics. "This is true influenza now. Take proper precautions."

Here's what you need to know.

Symptoms: Is it the flu?

If you just have sniffles and a scratchy throat, probably not. But add a fever of 101 or higher, aches and fatigue and you may be looking at the flu.

"So many people confuse a head cold or a cold with the flu. When a person says, 'I felt fine this morning and all of a sudden this afternoon if felt somebody hit me with a Mack truck' … that's the flu," said Dr. Stephen Dickey, vice president of operations for Doctor's Walk-In Clinic, which is seeing more flu at its eight centers in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

Most healthy people recover without complications, which are more likely among children, seniors, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions, the CDC says. So far, 22 children have died from the flu nationally. Get care immediately for adults who have trouble breathing, chest or abdominal pain, dizziness and severe vomiting; and children with trouble breathing, bluish skin or fever with a rash.

Getting better: Stick to basics

Step one is basic: Stay home. Rest. Drink plenty of fluids.

Drugstores carry over-the-counter medications that help relieve flu symptoms. In fact, the Hillsborough County Health Department looks at sales of items like cough syrup as a source of information in monitoring flu outbreaks in the community.

But be careful about self-medicating: The CDC cautions parents not to give aspirin to a child or teenager with flulike symptoms, especially fever.

Doctors urge patients to come in if they think they have the flu. Prescription antiviral drugs can lessen the misery and speed recovery, while preventing complications.

Not too late to get a shot

Didn't get that flu vaccination? It's not too late, say health officials, who warn that flu season can last into April.

Good hygiene is key. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to keep from spreading germs.

Do your best to avoid people who have the flu, and if you fall ill, stay home and take care of yourself.

Ache watch: Full-fledged flu season smacks bay area 03/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 10:38am]
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