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Flu vaccine makers have to guess nearly a year in advance, which strains of flu viruses will hit before creating their formula.
This year it appears they guessed wrong.
The Center for Disease Control is blaming the severity of this year's flu outbreak in part on mutated strains of flu that were not anticipated when the flu vaccine was formulated last year. Officials said 40 percent to 50 percent of cases presenting with flu this year had taken the flu shot.
The state Department for Public Health said last week that the flu is still "widespread" in the state. As of last week, 755 cases have been confirmed in all regions of the state.
Jewish Hospital Shelbyville's Director of Emergency and Critical Care Services, Tina Ethington, said the hospital's emergency room confirmed 40 cases of the flu in February and has seen at least 10 so far.
"That's not counting what the doctors are out there seeing," Ethington said.
Ethington said the hospital has also seen many more cases of upper respiratory illness, which for the very young and elderly, can be more dangerous than the flu. The hospital has also seen many cases of combinations of flu and strep throat, she said.
"It's been a bad health season," Ethington said.
Ethington said the flu season has hit later over the last 4-5 years.
"It used to hit in late fall, but now we're seeing more cases in February, March," Ethington said.
Emergency room physician Dr. Eric Olsen said the number of cases he has seen has started to drop off in the last couple of weeks. While many people have come into the emergency room with flu symptoms, Olsen recommends that most people would be just as well off staying home.
"There's not much we can do for flu," Olsen said. "In most cases they're just more likely to spread it around."
Olsen said the flu can be responsible for the development of upper respiratory illness and pneumonia, which causes the most fatalities from the illness. He said anyone who has shortness of breath or who feels "very sick" from the flu should seek medical attention. He also said products such as Tamiflu can be used to shorten the duration of the flu but they are only effective if used within the first 48 hours of diagnosis. Nationally, about 36,000 die from the flu every year and another 200,000 are hospitalized, according to the CDC.
Get the shot
Even though the flu vaccine this year has been less effective than it has in the past, the DPH still recommends the shot to anyone who has not yet had it. The vaccine will lessen the likelihood of getting the flu and/or will shorten the duration of the illness, according to a DPH press release.
Although anyone can get the flu vaccine, it is particularly recommended for children ages 6-59 months and adults 65 years of age or older. The DPH also recommends the vaccine for: Anyone aged 2-64 with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, asthma or diabetes; residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities; children 6 months to 18 years old on chronic aspirin therapy; health care workers; and household contacts of children less than 6 months old.
Symptoms and treatment of flu
Flu symptoms almost always include high fever, sore throat and muscle aches. Sometimes the flu produces nausea. The flu typically runs its course in six to eight days.
Tamiflu and other treatments must be used in the early stage of the illness and then likely knock off just a day or two of symptoms, though sometimes the treatments reduce the severity of symptoms.
Otherwise flu victims should treat the symptoms of fever and other ailments, drink plenty of fluids, rest, stay home and avoid contaminating others.
"Usually, the best thing to do is wait it out," Dr. Eric Olsen said.