January 08, 2014 - The holiday gatherings are over and some celebrants may have received some very unwanted gifts.
Local hospitals have reported to the Oakland County Health Division an increase in patients with H1N1 flu, as well as norovirus, a gastrointestinal illness.
"We are seeing a rise in the number of illnesses," said Kathy Forzley, OCHD manager and health officer. "When you get people in close proximity, you increase the likelihood of spreading illness. Over the holidays, people get together to celebrate and they tend to get together even when they're not feeling well."
A winter break that was extended for students this week due to extreme weather conditions may have mitigated the spread of sickness.
The OCHD receives data from schools on illness, but didn't have any information on rising numbers as of Tuesday due to school cancellations. Forzley noted time out of school could have helped avoid spread of contagions.
Currently, H1N1 is spreading fastest among those in the 20-50 age range, she said, a group that is at an elevated risk and least likely to have gotten the flu vaccine.
"It's very important to get the shot this year, because it is well-matched to the flu virus that is circulating," said Forzley. "It's the best preventive thing you can do."
The flu season peaks in January and February. Symptoms of H1N1 include extreme fatigue, fever, cough, runny nose and sore throat. Influenza is airborne and is not treatable with antibiotics, but if it lasts more than 3-4 days, it is vital to be seen by a healthcare provider.
"We have seen a lot of the symptoms of flu, but a lot of people are waiting too long and it goes into something else, like an upper respiratory infection," said Nena Woodall, manager of M-15 Urgent Care, 250 N. Ortonville Road. "We started seeing this right before Christmas and right after the holiday is when everyone started to be seen, because they waited so long. Once it's been over a week, it tends not to be viral, but something bigger."
Woodall noted that power outages from the ice storm, and general weather conditions may have caused some patients to wait as well, but it is crucial to treat patients whose flu has progressed to a bacterial infection.
"If it gets too deep into the lungs, you see a lot of dehydration, people don't feel like eating, and (dehydration) can kick in quickly with the elderly and the young."
Stomach flu has also been very prevalent at M-15 Urgent Care and many cases have been reported to OCHD. Symptoms present with vomiting, diarrhea and general nausea, but can also be accompanied by chest congestion.
"If you have norovirus, it's pretty intense and can hit suddenly," said Forzley. "It's very unpleasant and dehydrates you quickly. It's important to monitor those with gastrointestinal illness, because dehydration is common and can be life-threatening."
Norovirus is prevented by social distancing from someone who has the illness, and diligent hand washing and cleaning of surfaces.
In the case of individuals with either influenza or norovirus, Forzley stressed it is very important to not go to work or school or expose others.
With flu, individuals are no longer contagious once they are fever-free for 24 hours without use of a fever reducer. Norovirus is trickier, Forzley said. Once symptoms have resolved for 48 hours, you may no longer be contagious, but for two weeks after, extreme caution should be used when preparing food for others as you may still be shedding the virus.
"Influenza is airborne, but norovirus is spread by touch," said Forzley. "Clean your hands and surfaces and use extra care in handling food. It sounds like a broken record, but get the flu shot."
It takes two weeks after the flu shot to reach full immunized potential and individuals can still contract the flu, but should have a much milder case.
Flu shots are available at M-15 Urgent Care, 250 N. Ortonville Road, Groveland Township, 248-793-7113, as well as at OCHD, 1200 N. Telegraph, Pontiac, 248-858-1280.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville