COLUMBUS — Influenza is on the rise.
“I think there is no question about it. It started after Christmas with people traveling, people getting together,” said Dr. Daniel Rosenquist, a physician at Columbus Family Practice.
He said the local clinic is seeing a “fair amount” of cases and estimated that about 10 percent of the people walking through the doors there have flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, body aches, congestion and fatigue.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported influenza cases are popping up across the country, something that's expected to continue during the coming weeks. Because of that, health professionals are recommending flu shots for those who haven’t received one yet this season, especially those who are older or have high-risk conditions.
Receiving the vaccination soon is important because it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu, according to a press release from East Central District Health Department.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reports flu activity is “widespread” in the state, meaning there are outbreaks or increases in influenza-like cases in at least half the regions.
The peak months for the flu are December through March, with February typically being the most active.
"It’s here in a pretty big way. But it’s too early to tell if this is the peak or not,” said Dr. Thomas Safranek, the state epidemiologist.
"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 the hardest, said Safranek.
Rosenquist said the flu can also be hard on healthy adults, and it's particularly troublesome for older people who have conditions like high blood pressure and heart problems. They can be at risk for more serious complications from the flu, as can young children who haven’t built up a strong immunity yet.
There are medications that can be prescribed to lessen the symptoms, Rosenquist said. One of those is Tamiflu, which is most effective when taken within the first three days of showing symptoms.
For those who have the flu, Rosenquist said getting plenty of rest and fluids is important.
Flu shots are available from medical providers, some pharmacies, the hospital and health department.
In addition to the vaccine, ECDHD suggests additional steps to avoid getting or spreading the flu. These include routine hand-washing, coughing into your sleeve and promptly disinfecting surfaces that could have been touched by someone with the flu.