Bethlehem Press

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Flu onset has no warning; get shot now

Thursday, November 30, 2017 by Chris Reber creber@tnonline.com in Local News

After more than 40 years dealing with infectious diseases, Dr. Luther “Pat” Rhodes says you can’t predict when the peak of flu season will hit.

That’s why Rhodes, an infectious disease specialist at Lehigh Valley Health Network, encourages everyone to get a flu shot each fall, regardless of the outlook for the upcoming season.

“The only thing you can say about flu is there will be a sudden surge, an increase of cases, and calling it would be like predicting the weather,” he said.

It’s that time of year, when doctors warn the public of the upcoming flu season.

Over the years, Dr. Rhodes has seen flu’s peak come as early as October, while in other seasons, infection rates will remain low until well after Thanksgiving.

Rhodes says that despite what some say, there is no way to get the flu from the flu vaccine, so you might as well get the shot.

The vaccine can take up to two weeks to become effective, so Rhodes recommends getting a shot before you hear about the flu spreading.

“Even though there’s no raging headlines of widespread flu, it’s the best time to be vaccinated because there is plenty of vaccine, and it takes a good 10-14 days to become fully effective.”

The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age gets a flu shot, but they prioritize children under 5 and adults over 50.

Rhodes says that a child can be contagious for seven to 10 days, as opposed to about five for a healthy adult. Also, adults tend to self-quarantine because of their symptoms, while children could be more likely to come in contact with someone else while they’re sick.

Vaccination drives have been taking place around the area in recent weeks. Over the weekend, LVHN vaccinated more than 7,700 people during drive-thru vaccination events at Dorney Park and Coca-Cola Park.

While there are no big drives scheduled in Carbon County, people can walk into a local pharmacy and get vaccinated, no appointment necessary.

The shots are covered by most insurance plans, and are free if you have Medicare Part B, according to Mike Silvonek of First National Pharmacy in Lehighton.

Silvonek said he has already seen a lot of people coming in for flu shots. But he said they’ll continue offering them throughout flu season.

“If you haven’t gotten it, please consider getting it because everything is saying the flu season is going to be bad,” Silvonek said.

So far, flu rates have not spiked. Rhodes says he watches out for the spread of flu data from a local testing laboratory in the Lehigh Valley. Because they test samples from multiple hospitals, they will immediately detect an uptick. He’ll also pay attention to the rate of people calling out from work, which is one of the best indicators in his opinion.

There’s actually a term in the medical field — “presenteeism,” which means when someone transmits an infectious disease by coming to work when they shouldn’t have.

His advice to parents and those looking to stay healthy this fall, is to take any preventive action you can, especially staying home.

“People should take any preventive measures they can personally, to get vaccinated, to be able, willing and honest enough that if they’re ill, to stay home,” he said.