A particularly nasty flu arrived in Bethel last week.
"We've noticed an increase in our emergency room with patients presenting with flu like symptoms: fever, chills, body aches," said Tiffany Zulkosky, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation's Vice President of Communications. Zulkosky was also just confirmed as the Y-K Delta’s newest state representative, but for the time being is still working her day job.
Though Zulkosky can’t comment on whether anyone has actually died of the flu in our region this year, she could comment on what’s happening nationally. "There has been an increased rate of casualties from the flu that have happened in people with compromised immune systems and within pediatric patients," she said.
Zulkosky and Dr. Ellen Hodges, YKHC’s Chief of Staff, urged Y-K Delta residents to closely monitor any flu-like symptoms. A cough, sore throat, runny nose, vomiting, or diarrhea can be symptoms of a mild case of the flu, though Dr. Hodges says that it might not feel mild at all. "I've heard it described as getting hit by a truck," she said. "People feel terrible. They have high fevers and body aches."
Dr. Hodges recommends staying in bed, drinking a lot of water, and taking over-the-counter drugs to lower the fevers. But other flu symptoms are a lot more worrying. "If you're having problems with severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing," she said as an example. "Or pain in your chest or abdomen. Feeling dizzy, severe or persistent vomiting."
Confusion in the elderly is a very ominous sign, she added. And if your child has flu-like symptoms, watch to see if they turn blue around the lips. If you notice any of those symptoms, Hodges said, go to the doctor right away. Community members in villages should call their local health aides.
Hodges and Zulkosky both stressed that it’s not too late to get vaccinated, and that vaccines are essential to fighting the flu. The shot isn’t 100 percent effective, but it makes the flu a lot milder. And the more people that are vaccinated against it, the harder it is for the flu to spread. Dr. Hodges said that getting vaccinated protects friends and family members who might not be able to get the shot themselves, like children under six months old.
"If you have any interaction with children under the age of six months, it's really important that you get a flu shot because those babies cannot be protected with a vaccine," she said. "They're relying on us to increase our immunity."
Hodges added that pregnant women can be particularly vulnerable, so they and their families should be sure to get flu shots. And no, Hodges said, you won’t actually get the flu from the flu shot, though you might get a slightly sore arm.
YKHC is offering free flu shots in the hospital’s lobby Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. No appointment is necessary. Hodges and Zulkosky both added that village clinics are well stocked with the vaccines as well.