Flu outbreaks in St. Michael are still in line with the nationwide and state flu epidemic, according to Dr. Renae Dorrity, family medicine physician at Allina Medical Center in St. Michael.
"We're not sure if we've seen the peak of the flu yet," Dorrity told St. Michael Patch Tuesday. "If we still have several weeks left of the flu season, it's definitely not too late to get a flu shot."
The flu started earlier than usual this season. The increase in numbers of patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms, sometimes severe, has been steady this week, she said.
"Unfortunately, we're not protected in our sheltered lives up here (in St. Michael)," Dorrity, who is also a St. Michael resident, said. "A few weeks down the road, we may be out of flu shots in the area."
The clinic has already run out of their original supply of shots, but was "fortunate enough" to be able to order a second batch from a nationwide supplier, said Clinic Manager Cindy Welker.
"However it is going quickly," Welker said. "A lot of manufacturers are starting to run out. Some say they still have a large quanitity, but it’s kind of hit and miss."
She added that the increase in patients requesting flu shots is a good thing.
The Wright County Wellness on Wheels (WOW) Van still has a good supply of flu shots, according to Christine Austin-Roehler, Public Health Preparedness & Health Promotion Coordinator at the Wright County Public Health Department.
There are several options when deciding where to get a flu shot in the St. Michael area.
Local Strains of the Flu
Locally, doctors are seeing most cases of a strain of the Influenza A, or H3N2, virus, which is included in this year's flu shot.
Influenza B is also covered in the flu shot, but doctors have not yet seen many cases of that strain.
"Potentially, those B viruses may peak as well, so getting protected now will help for the full flu season," she said. "We typically see a down spiral in flu cases in March."
The third strain covered by the shot is H1N1.
In the last two years, the peak of the flu took place in late February. Given that the shot takes up to eight to 14 days to be effective, it's not too late to get one if you haven't already, she said.
She added that the past few weeks at the St. Michael Clinic is similar to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, in terms of number of patients with the flu.
Should You Go to the Doctor?
Many also have called the clinic to find out if they need to be seen by a doctor, or if they can take care of their illness by resting at home, Dorrity said.
"If you're starting to have difficulty breathing or are short of breath or wheezing, you could be at risk for the worst complication — pneumonia," she said. People most at risk are those with chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes.
"Those patients, we want to see, because they are at much higher risk of having a more severe case," she said. "We want to get them on proper treatment as soon as possible."
Some people with the flu who are early in their symptoms can also be seen to get an anti-viral prescription drug called Tamiflu. It's meant to shorten the duration of the flu, and is best effective if it is taken in the first 24 hours of flu symptoms.
Dorrity said pharmacies could be running low on that in the next few weeks.
Is the Flu Shot Working?
Dorrity said the biggest misconception she sees locally is that people confuse the respitory flu influenza, with the stomach flu — gastroenteritis. The stomach flu virus is also going around.
"The flu is a respiratory illness that comes on pretty suddenly and is characterized by fever, body aches, nasal congestion, and cough," she explained. "The biggest misconception is people think the flu shot wasn't effective because they assume that when they got the flu shot, it will protect them against the stomach ailment."
Another question she gets is: why are people who were vaccinated still getting influenza?
"When you get the vaccine, ideally, your blood cells make antibodies against the flu," she explained. "Within the first three to four months after getting the shot, you should have antibodies and more cells capable of making more antibodies. What we're seeing, especially with the elderly, is that they don't produce the antibodies or they don't make very many of them."
Getting the flu shot still increases your chances of being protected, and can lessen the severity of the flu if you do catch it.
Dorrity added that she sees many local people still going to work or attending their childrens' events in the evening when they have the flu.
"Unfortunately, we have a lot of people whose employer pays by the hour and they don't have sick leave," Dorrity said.
Her advice: "If you have symptoms, stay home. It's the biggest way to prevent the spread."