Doctor: Illness may not be flu

Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Putnam County firefighters work to contain an electrical fire at 15 Lazy Acres Estates, just off of County Road 625 East, Tuesday afternoon.

Most people can relate to that feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and rushing to the bathroom with an upset stomach.

These brief spells of vomiting and diarrhea are often labeled by those who experience them as the flu, however health officials say people may be confusing them with another illness that is common this time of year.

Norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness with periods of vomiting and diarrhea similar to the flu. People are infected with Norovirus by eating or drinking items that are contaminated, touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their mouth or having direct contact with another person who is infected. It is common among passengers of cruise ships.

An Indianapolis Olive Garden restaurant recently made headlines when more than 300 people who ate there came down with Norovirus. It is believed that one of the restaurant's employees came to work sick and subsequently infected hundreds of people. The restaurant has since reopened and at least two of the people who became ill have threatened a lawsuit.

Putnam County Health Officer Dr. Robert Heavin said one of the major differences between Norovirus and flu is that the symptoms of Norovirus come and go in a couple of days while the flu can last up to 10 days.

Officials urge that although commonly called "stomach flu," Norovirus infections should not be confused with influenza which is a respiratory illness accompanied by fever, sore throat, dry cough, muscle aches, headache, severe nausea and even shortness of breath.

With that said, Dr. Heavin said Putnam County has seen a noticeable number of influenza, type A, cases in recent weeks. And for some reason, the target seem to be children under 5 years old.

"We're trying to encourage parents to have their children immunized," Dr. Heavin said, adding that children as young as six months old are eligible for the flu shot.

He said children less than 5 years old require two separate injections, occurring about a month apart, rather than the one that is required for older children and adults.

"They will receive the first one now and a booster a month later," he said.

Parents have several options when arranging for their children to get flu shots.

First and foremost, parents should consult with their child's doctor for the best time to arrange a flu shot.

Secondly, the Putnam County Health Department keeps a supply of doses available for children and adults alike. The health department can be reached by calling 653-5210.

Finally, local clinics such as Greencastle's Johnson Nichols Health Clinic, offer free flu shots to children as young as 6 months old.

"It's still a good idea -- if kids haven't had their flu shots yet," Johnson Nichols Director Ruth Ralph said in urging parents to contact the clinic to arrange for a shot.

She said children six months to 3 years old can receive the shots at no charge. Older children may also receive them for free if they have a condition that makes them more susceptible to getting the flu, such as a weakened immune system or allergies.

Ralph said the clinic currently has a supply of doses available and parents can call 653-8244 to arrange an appointment. The clinic is located at 141 Martinsville St. in Greencastle.

Dr. Heavin said that since the vaccine takes a while to take effect, children may still be susceptible to getting the flu this season but would be more immune during next year's season.

He said this year's season is nearing its peak right now and will continue for the next several weeks.

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