V.I. doctors seeing more influenza cases
Published: January 15, 2013
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Doctors in the territory say they are treating their share of influenza cases as the traditional U.S. flu season moves toward its peak.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently is reporting that flu activity is "high" across most of the United States.
Starting late last week, the flu outbreak began to grab headlines and airtime on stateside news broadcasts, bringing significant public attention to the issue.
In the territory, Red Hook Family Practice's two locations experienced a bit of a run on flu vaccines about the same time, as residents tried to protect themselves from getting the flu, said Dr. James Clayton.
"We did a lot of it Friday," he said of giving flu shots.
Local health care providers who spoke to The Daily News said they've seen an uptick in the number of flu cases coming in for treatment during the last month - although the increase is not out of the ordinary and falls into the parameters they've seen in some previous flu seasons.
Clayton said that Red Hook Family Practice's locations at Red Hook and at Yacht Haven on St. Thomas "are seeing a very significant increase in the incidence of influenza." With two offices and multiple providers, Clayton estimated that the practice is seeing about five to seven cases of flu per day.
Patients are presenting, he said, with classic flu symptoms.
"We aren't seeing any other than it being a typical influenza. We aren't seeing any severe complications, such as pneumonia or secondary infection," Clayton said. "This is not like panic city - and it shouldn't be."
The CDC recommends influenza vaccination for people who have not yet been vaccinated this flu season and antiviral treatment as early as possible for people who get sick and are at high risk of flu complications.
Although it takes about two weeks after a flu shot to develop full immunity, some level of immunity typically is imparted before then, doctors said.
Providers said it appears that a lot of residents have gotten the shots.
On St. Croix, Frederiksted Health Care Nurse Practitioner Julia Winge is seeing a mix of patients presenting with one of three things: colds, dengue fever or influenza, she said.
She estimated that she tends to see a couple of flu cases per day, although Frederiksted Health Care has not been using the rapid flu tests that some doctors' offices use.
Jason Henry, a program coordinator at Frederiksted Health Center, said the clinic is looking into the possibility of getting some of the rapid tests.
Winge said that at this point, she has not been treating many flu cases with the antiviral Tamiflu because the patients she has seen have been too far along in the course of the illness for the treatment to be effective.
"Sometimes you feel so sick, you can't get to the clinic until you feel better," she said. By that point, she said, it is typically too late to start Tamiflu.
Influenza is a virus, and four antivirals, including Tamiflu, have been approved for treating flu in the United States. Antivirals can make the illness milder and may help prevent complications from the flu. However, patients need to be start taking them early in the course of the illness.
Dr. Mark Livingston, a family practitioner on St. Thomas, said he has been seeing an upswing in flu cases in his private practice.
"I'm testing daily, sometimes several patients per day," he said.
Livingston estimated that he is testing about 20 patients per week for flu, with five to 10 testing positive.
"That's a definite increase, even from a month ago," he said.
Patient are presenting with the classic symptoms - fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue, he said. None of Livingston's flu patients so far have developed complications, he said.
Complications can include developing pneumonia or bronchitis.
Flu shots still are available in the territory, and those interested can call their physicians or the V.I. Health Department.
Frederiksted Health Care is offering flu vaccines at no charge at the health center on Strand Street for anyone who is uninsured and wants to be vaccinated. For persons with insurance, Frederiksted Health Care will provide the vaccine and waive the co-pay.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.