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Temporada de flu llega al sur de Florida antes de tiempo

El Sentinel

Un brote inicial de la gripe(flu) estacional que ha afectado a gran parte de Estados Unidos está empezando a afectar cada vez más al sur de Florida.

Desde mediados de diciembre, la salas de emergencia del condado de Broward han estado viendo casi el doble del volumen de pacientes que llegan con síntomas de gripe, a diferencia de lo que se suele ver en esta época del año, dijo el Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, jefe de medicina de emergencia de la Salud de Broward.

"Y estamos preparados para ello y para ver un aumento aún superior de pacientes  en las próximas semanas”, dijo.

Algunos hospitales del condado de Palm Beach está reportando la misma actividad, aunque las autoridades estatales de salud advierten que el condado de Palm Beach tiene niveles de actividad "leves", desde la última semana de diciembre.

Broward fue uno de los 20 condados de Florida, cuyo nivel fue catalogado como "moderado", un paso más de la categoría  “leve" y una antes de la “generalizada".

La buena noticia: el  H3N2 no es tan grave como los virus anteriores, y no dura tanto tiempo.

"Es más concentrada, y es más penetrante, pero la gente dura menos tiempo enferma por un período más corto de tiempo", dijo el especialista.

La temporada de gripe no suele llegar hasta mediados de enero. Pero dijo que en el área se está viendo alrededor de 5 a 7 por ciento de la carga global de pacientes que presentan síntomas de gripe - más del doble del 1 por ciento a 3, que generalmente se enferman en esta época del año.

Las cifras más recientes de los Centros para el Control y Prevención de Enfermedades muestran que durante la última semana de diciembre, Florida fue uno de los 42 estados experimentando actividad "generalizada" de la influenza, semanas antes de lo previsto.

Unlike in some seasons past, this year’s flu bug is affecting people of all ages, not just the very young and very old, said Dr. Barry Poplaw, medical director of the emergency department at Bethesda Hospital West in Boynton Beach.

“This is an equal opportunity infection right now,” Poplaw said, adding that his hospital treated one man in his 60s who was sick enough with the flu to be admitted overnight Tuesday. “We’re certainly seeing an increase.”

We’re hardly alone. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that during the last week of December, Florida was among 29 states reporting high levels of influenza activity, weeks ahead of schedule.

“It’s certainly not the volume we saw with the swine flu (H1N1), and it’s not as severe, but it’s just now kicking in,” said Dr. Heidi Cohen, assistant medical director in the pediatric emergency department at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

El Sanadi cautions patients not to panic or rush out to request the antiviral medication, Tamiflu. All medications have side effects, he said, and Tamiflu should only be taken if a patient is sick enough to warrant it.

“Every medication has a little bit of poison in it,” he said.

Cohen, though, added that Tamiflu is most effective if given within the first 48 hours of the flu’s onset, so those who are having trouble breathing, are particularly vulnerable, or are in compromised health should see a doctor right away. Patients of concern include children younger than 2, adults 65 and older, pregnant women or anyone with an autoimmune disease, respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD, or chronic illnesses like diabetes.

“It’s a fine line,” Cohen said of the decision to treat patients with Tamiflu.

Parents of children who don’t meet those criteria should try over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, while also watching out for more severe symptoms like dehydration, she said.

El Sanadi also advised otherwise healthy adults to try to self-treat their symptoms. If you feel like you have the flu — you have a cough, a fever, body aches and a feeling of lethargy — drink lots of fluids, take over-the-counter medicine, wash your hands regularly and do all you can not to contaminate others. If you don’t feel better within 24 to 48 hours, or if you feel worse, El Sanadi said, see your doctor and let him or her decide how best to treat your illness.

One more piece of advice: It’s not too late to get vaccinated — unless, of course, you’re already experiencing flu-like symptoms. In the Southeast, the flu season can last into April, Cohen said.

“If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, go get it because it will provide you with some immunization, even though we’re hitting the crescendo of the illness,” El Sanadi said.


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