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Flu shots urged for children

DETROIT LAKES - The Minnesota Department of Health is urging people at risk for influenza to get vaccinated after the influenza-related death of a 12-year-old girl with an underlying medical condition in the Twin Cities last weekend.

The national Center for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted early last week to recommend flu vaccines for all children six to 59 months old and for kids with underlying medical conditions that place them at higher risks for flu complications, beginning in the 2008-2009 flu season.

Karen Bergeron, RN, a MeritCare phone nurse in Detroit Lakes, said that the influenza the Minnesota Department of Health is talking about, and the kind addressed by the flu vaccine, is a respiratory influenza, not a stomach bug.

In approximately three weeks of calls, Bergeron said she had asked people if they had gotten their flu shots earlier in the season. She said only three or four of her callers had gotten the vaccine, the rest hadn't gotten the shot. Of course, the flu shot is no guarantee people will get through winter without getting hit by the virus.

"You can still get it, even if you have the shot," she said.

But the vaccine might help. Bergeron said many people who have gotten sick in the area have gotten sick with Influenza A, which has pretty fair coverage with the vaccine. In the general public in Minnesota, Bergeron said many have gotten sick with Influenza B, which does not have good coverage with the vaccine.

MeritCare has been doing so many influenza screenings this flu season that Bergeron said they ran out of screening supplies for a while. She said a lot of the symptoms include fever, aching from head to toe, nasal congestion, and a sore throat that lessens when the sick person drinks plenty of fluids.

If the sore throat is a primary concern, she said patients should come in for a strep throat screening because that is also going around.

While the flu can't be treated with antibiotics, Bergeron said patients who have had the symptoms for less than 48 hours could get an anti-viral treatment that may shorten the duration of influenza.

"It may get them to work a couple days earlier than if they do not get any treatment," she said.

Mary Beth Ellegaard, the nursing supervisor at Innovis Health in Detroit Lakes said a lot of different illnesses are moving through the area.

"The weather is warm one day and freezing cold the next and the warmer the weather is, the more bugs can survive," Ellegaard said.

Ellegaard said if people aren't feeling well, they should come in and see their doctors, especially if people are questioning what is wrong with their health. She said people should get plenty of rest and fluids, but definitely come in for a visit with their doctors.

Both Bergeron and Ellegaard said it isn't too late for people to get flu shots. Bergeron at MeritCare said they have an extremely limited number of pediatric doses of the flu vaccine, and a small supply of adult doses, but are also seeing if they can order more. Ellegaard at Innovis-Health said they also have a small supply of the vaccine.

Both encouraged getting flu shots at the start of the influenza season, especially for patients with medical conditions.

The 12-year-old Twin Cities girl who died was reported to have asthma.

The MDH said the people most at risk for complications include people age 50 or older, people with chronic illnesses, children ages six months to five years, and residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities.

Karen Ehresmann, a section manager for Immunizations, Tuberculosis and International Health at the MDH said there are other ways for people to protect themselves from influenza in addition to the vaccine, such as washing your hands and covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.

Other recommendations include staying healthy by getting plenty of rest, physical activity and healthy eating; staying home from work or school if suffering from flu-like symptoms; and clean commonly used surfaces, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.

If you do get sick, Bergeron said the best course of treatment is to get plenty of rest and fluids, take ibuprofen or Tylenol, and a decongestant or mucolytic (something that helps break apart the mucus). She said people who are ill should especially drink lots of water. The flu she is seeing around DL also exhibits some dizziness near the end of the illness. People are feeling better to go to work, but are too dizzy to drive, so it's best to err on the side of caution.

"People are flat on their back for three to five days," she said.