It looks like influenza will be a bigger problem this year, based on reports from doctor’s offices across the county and state.
And the message from the experts is this: If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, get one, particularly if you are older or have high-risk conditions.
The number of people going to the doctor with flu symptoms, and the number of people with confirmed cases of flu rose dramatically in early January and continues to climb, based on county and state reports.
One influenza-related death, an adult over 65 years of age, has been reported in Lancaster County.
And the percentage of people going to the doctor for flu-like symptoms in Lancaster County has nearly doubled in the past three weeks.
"This is right on schedule,” said Dr. Thomas Safranek, the state epidemiologist, about the rise in influenza cases both locally and statewide.
"It’s here in a pretty big way. But it’s too early to tell if this is the peak or not,” he said.
"We are probably right in the midst of the heaviest flu activity," he said.
Last winter influenza cases remained low, the lowest in a four-year period.
The influenza strain most prevalent in Nebraska right now is hitting the elderly population hardest, said Safranek.
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In Lancaster County 28 percent of the flu cases are people 65 years and older, said Tim Timmons, communicable disease program specialist for the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
And there is enough influenza going around that people with symptoms -- a fever of 101, a sore throat or a cough and body aches -- can call their doctor to get a prescription called in for Tamiflu, Safranek said. It is important to begin taking Tamiflu as quickly as possible -- within the first 48 hours. After that it is not nearly as effective, Safranek said.
Tamiflu will reduce the severity of the flu and lessen the time you are symptomatic. “You are still going to have the flu, but it will help,” Timmons said.
Using an antiviral medication is particularly important for people who are at high risk for complications, which include the frail elderly, people with diabetes and other chronic health conditions, very young children and infants, pregnant women and people with extreme obesity.
It’s important not to expose people at higher risk. If you are sick, don’t visit your elderly relatives or neighbors, suggested Kathie Osterman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Upper respiratory illnesses also remain prevalent. But this is not influenza. You really have to have a fever to suspect influenza. If it hits 101, take that very seriously, Safranek said.
Lancaster County gathers information from 24 provider practices, and from hospitals, nursing homes and schools to track influenza during the winter.
The city-county Health Department says nearly 290 people have reported being sick with the flu and has confirmed 38 cases of influenza since flu season began in early October.
“The level of flu activity in Lancaster County is elevated and appears to be continuing to increase,” said the county’s weekly influenza report released Friday. That report covers the time period up to Jan. 14.
This past week the message was mixed. People going to the doctor with flu symptoms shot up, but hospital admissions stayed the same, Timmons said.