Flu has reached widespread levels in parts of Virginia, the state health department said Thursday, but local emergency departments aren't reporting a spike.
"We've seen just very few cases," said Dr. Geofrey Nochimson, medical director of the emergency departments at Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton and Sentara Port Warwick in Newport News.
Widespread doesn't mean peak, which typically happens in February, said Dr. Randall Fisher, medical director of Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters' division of pediatric infectious diseases. Flu season in Virginia typically runs December through March.
Cold weather is keeping people indoors, in close quarters with others, which means flu can spread easily, Nochimson said.
"When kids get back into school after the holiday break, the potential for the spread of flu will certainly increase," he said.
Most people don't need medical attention or drugs for the flu. Infants, older people or those who start having difficulty breathing should be evaluated, though, because they're at higher risk of coming down with complications, Nochimson said. Sick children should stay home from school.
"Flu is best treated at home with Tylenol, rest, lots of fluids," Nochimsom said.
Anti-virals must be started within 48 hours of when symptoms begin and at best shorten the illness by a day, Fisher said. He fears overprescribing drugs will make viruses resistant to them.
"If you're an otherwise healthy person, it's going to last about five days, you're going to feel terrible, but then you're going to feel better," he said of the flu.
Don't treat it with aspirin or products containing aspirin, such as Pepto-Bismol, because that could contribute to a serious illness called Reye's syndrome, Fisher said.
The best way to keep susceptible people from getting the flu is for everyone to be vaccinated, especially kids, who have the highest rate of infections, he said.
It's not too late to get a flu shot. This year's shot is a good match for the flu strains that are circulating, Nochimsom said.
The Peninsula Health District is offering the influenza vaccine for free at several clinics:
•Monday, 1 to 3 p.m., Newsome Park, 4801 Marshall Ave., Newport News
•Tuesday, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., Everest College, 803 Diligence Dr., and 1 to 3 p.m., Value City Furniture, 12149 Jefferson Ave., both in Newport News
•Wednesday, 9 a.m. to noon, Peninsula Hardwood Mulch, 715 Lakeside Dr., York County
•Jan. 6, 9 a.m. to noon, Big Lots, 4813 George Washington Memorial Hwy., York County, and 1 to 3 p.m., Newport News-Williamsburg Airport baggage claim, 900 Bland Ave., Newport News
•Jan. 7, 1 to 3 p.m., Stratford Apartments, 100 Stratford Road, York County
•Jan. 8, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Harley-Davidson, 6450 George Washington Memorial Hwy., York County
•Jan. 10, 1 to 3 p.m., New Town, 4801 Courthouse St., James County County.
Free vaccine also is available at the Peninsula Health Center, 416 J Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News, Mondays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. No appointment is necessary.
Do you have the flu?
Symptoms typically include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and fatigue.