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Flu hits early and hard: 7 dead in Indiana, including 2 in Allen County

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 8:23 am

The Indiana state Health Department is reporting seven deaths since November from influenza.

In Allen County, two people have died. Jon Silcox, spokesman for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, said this year influenza has struck earlier and seems to being hitting people harder than in recent years.

Normally, January and February are the peak months for the flu. The Health Department has been running service announcements and posting signs at local hospitals and in doctors' offices to remind the public to get vaccinated. As in past years, the Department of Health has been out in the community, focusing on at-risk populations, with vaccination clinics.

Dr. Deborah McMahan, Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Commissioner, said doctors' offices have been telling her they have seen a lot more cases over the past couple of weeks.

“Thank goodness schools were out,” McMahan said.

She attributed the recent surge to social aspects of the holiday season, when large groups of friends and family gather indoors and in close proximity. She encouraged the public to get their flu vaccinations.

McMahan said people seem to have become apathetic about getting vaccinations, not just flu shots but all vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported 60 percent of those who should get vaccinations are not.

She noted there has been an increase of flu in nursing homes and the majority of the deaths reported in the state were in the older population. People who claim to have gotten the flu after receiving the shot are wrong; the flu virus they are vaccinated with is dead and does not cause infection. Currently, a flu vaccine that a person would have to take only once in a lifetime is in the works. For those who are allergic to eggs, McMahan said, there are a couple of options with vaccines that have no egg involved in their manufacturing.

The 2012-13 vaccine protects against the three most common strains of influenza: H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B. State health officials say that although cases of H1N1 and Influenza B have been reported, the H3N2 strain appears to be predominant. The 2012-13 vaccine appears to be a good match for circulating flu strains.

The shots are available by appointment at the Department of Health Medical Annex, 4813 New Haven Ave. There is a $9 charge for the vaccination.

Krista Stockman, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools, said they have continued working with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department and Parkview to offer flu vaccinations in all their Title I schools. She noted that before the Christmas break, they saw an upswing in the number of absences reported, with one to two schools a day having 10 percent or higher absentee rate.

Since their return from winter break, numbers are lower, but Stockman said that could change as students are once again close together in the classrooms. Last year their highest numbers for absenteeism were in January and February.

McMahan said a lot of common colds are being passed around but flu symptoms differ because of high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat and body aches.

“You don't recover from the flu in a week,” McMahan said.

She encouraged people not to try to tough it out at work if they have the flu, but to stay home and rest.