Flu’s impact is felt in city

Blame a creepy little ‘bug’ for fever, malaise

Audrey Chambers, 13, gets a flu shot at Durango Urgent Care from Susan Pugh on Saturday afternoon. Chambers is the daughter of Jeff and Diane Chambers. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Audrey Chambers, 13, gets a flu shot at Durango Urgent Care from Susan Pugh on Saturday afternoon. Chambers is the daughter of Jeff and Diane Chambers.

You’re at a store or in a meeting. You start to sniffle and cough, and you can’t clear your throat as it gets scratchier and swallowing becomes painful. Sweat starts to gather on your forehead, and it feels hot to the touch. You search for a tissue as your nose starts to run and chills run down your back. Your exhaustion is overwhelming. In the worst cases, you start to feel nauseous and maybe want to throw up.

Guess what? You probably have the flu.

By early this last weekend, three people had been admitted to Mercy Regional Medical Center with the flu, and 12 others were treated and released, according to spokesman David Bruzzese.

So far, the area has not been as affected as have others across the country where at least 20 people have died from flu complications. On Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a flu emergency, with more than 20,000 confirmed flu cases, or about four times the previous flu season.

Earlier, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino also declared a flu emergency, and significant cases have been reported in 47 states, according to news reports.

While the Durango area has “not had a huge amount of activity,” it is increasing according to Dr. Susan Graham, a Mercy emergency-room doctor.

She said one of the reason this flu season seems worse is “activity is early this year.”

Graham said some symptoms flu victims suffer are actually part of the body’s way of fighting the infection.

The flu virus, she said, attacks cells, and the body finds way to try to rid itself of the infection. Fever, and other inflammation such as in the throat, is one response, coughing is another, she said.

That attempt to defeat the virus is partly “why the body feels so icky,” she said.

There have been some short-term vaccine shortages, but most clinics and pharmacies have replenished their supplies. And, despite all of the warnings, many people haven’t gotten their vaccinations this flu season, despite high levels of contagion.

Graham said flu shots aren’t 100 percent effective, but they are good at helping many people avoid the flu, or at least to suffer milder symptoms.

The viruses spread when they become “aerosolized” when someone coughs or sneezes into the air, Graham said.

This year’s influenza strain is known by the scary appellation of H3N2. A previous famous version was H1N1.

Influenza is divided into a number of categories. The current flu is known as Influenza A. Flus are then divided again into subtypes, which is where the “H” and “N” come from.

The “H” stands for hemagglutinin protein, which “is a spike-shaped protein that extends from the surface of the virus,” according to the RCSB Protein Data Bank, also known as PDB, an informational website on biological macromolecular structures.

Hemagglutinin looks for vulnerable red blood cells to attack and attaches itself to the cells. PDB said hemagglutinin essentially glues cells together to form clumps, instead of letting the cells flow freely.

The protein comes in a number of subtypes, thus the different numbers after the “H” as in H3.

Neuraminidase is the “N” in H3N2. Neuraminidase makes its move after the “H” leaves an infected cell. It binds with sugars known as polysaccharides – as in the sweetener Saccharine – in the cells and allows the virus to bore in.

Like hemagglutinin, neuraminidase is designated by numerical subtype.

The various subtypes of flu can combine. Normally, each type stays with the host it likes best. So bird flu stays with birds, swine flu stays with pigs and so on.

But when the subtypes combine elements they can spread across species. This zoonotic infection – spreading from animals to humans – is how the avian influenza, or bird flu (H5N1), and the H1N1 (swine flu) and current H3N2 virus developed. Thank the pigs for the latest flu.

In addition to symptoms already mentioned, children may be especially vulnerable to diarrhea. The exhaustion, also called “malaise,” is a general ill feeling, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the Center for Biotechnology Information.

A fever above 100 degrees can be considered serious, and patients with difficulty breathing should contact a health professional immediately.

Flu can lead to serious complications. Graham said perhaps the most common is pneumonia, which is fluid in the lungs. Thus, severe flu cases can lead to acute respiratory distress as well as sepsis, which is the body’s severe response to bacteria or other germs, and even organ failure.

In addition to flu shots, Graham said people should wash there hands well and regularly, and stay at home if they suspect they are ill.

rgalin@durangoherald.com

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