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A Longmont Target store on S. Hover Street is asking customers to contact the store in reference to possibly ineffective flu shots that might have been administered there.
A Longmont Target store on S. Hover Street is asking customers to contact the store in reference to possibly ineffective flu shots that might have been administered there.

Flu season is starting to ramp up slightly along the Front Range, as Boulder County’s periodic Flu View report shows a jump in the number of people in emergency rooms presenting symptoms.

Last week, according to the Dec. 17 report, just over 4% of emergency department visits were for illnesses that fit the Center for Disease Control’s definition for an influenza-like sickness. This number represents around a 2% jump from the previous week, and more than 2% above the baseline number the agency measures against.

Dr. Jamie Teumer, an emergency physician and medical director for UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital and UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, said that he’s seen a “slow uptick” in flu symptoms over the past week.

“With everybody traveling and doing everything else, coming from other parts of the country, we bring more and more exposure into the area from areas where (the number of flu cases) is even higher,” he said.

There have been seven hospitalizations for the whole season in the county, as well, three being of people over the age of 65 and none for children under the age of 4.

Kaylan Stinson, the Boulder County Public Health Department’s regional epidemiologist, said that this kind of uptick in emergency department visits is par for the course when it comes to flu season. Boulder County’s numbers, too, she said, fairly closely mirror what’s going on in the rest of the northern Colorado region.

Last week, according to Boulder County’s Flu View report, more than 3.5% of emergency room visits in northern Colorado saw flu like symptoms.

Stinson said, though, that data on hospitalizations due to influenza have shown that it isn’t so easy to predict.

“If you look at (the data), historically, what you see is that the flu is unpredictable,” she said. “We always know that starting somewhere at the end of September and into May, that we could have increased flu activity.”

And the first thing Stinson recommends to combat the flu is to get vaccinated.

“The yearly flu vaccine… is the first and most important step to protecting against flu viruses,” she said. “Everyone you know 6 months and older should get that annual flu vaccine. It doesn’t just only protect against the flu, but if you do get the flu, it helps with severity.”

Other tips that Stinson recommends are washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with people who are sick and refraining from touching the eyes, nose and mouth.

As for when people should visit an urgent care center or hospital, Teumer said it all depends on age and a person’s overall health.

Those with issues like lung problems, heart problems and diabetes should come in for treatment early, he said, adding that dehydration, decreased appetite and secondary infections like pneumonia can present danger to those folks, along with young children and the elderly.

Doctors can prescribe medication that can reduce the length and severity of the flu, he said, though it’s most effective within 48 hours of contracting the illness.

For everyone else, he recommends coming in when symptoms get to be more severe than the norm.

“We tell people that if you’re not eating, drinking and… it’s been going on for more than a day or so, that’s probably of concern for dehydration — if you’re not drinking, not capable of drinking, that’s a good time to come see us,” he said. “…The classic symptoms are that every inch of your body hurts, you get a headache, you get a cough, you get a runny nose, watery eyes type of thing, but if it gets to be more than that — people feeling short of breath, they’re lethargic, their mental status, especially if they’re older, seems to be diminishing — those are important reasons to come see us.”