What you need to know to protect yourself from the flu

CINCINNATI - Eighteen children are dead and thousands of people across the country are in the hospital trying to beat the flu. 

In Ohio, there are more than 800 in the hospital with the flu. Last year at this time, the number was only 65.  Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are among the states where the CDC says the flu is reaching epidemic levels.

9 On Your Side talked to the regional director of the Little Clinic and family nurse practitioner Sandra Menkendick about the increase in patients with the flu this year.

"The Cincinnati region has been hit very hard. We're definitely seeing an influx of patients coming in," said Menkendick.

According to Google Flu Trends, the Tri-State's flu rating has moved from high to intense. This is the earliest and worst flu outbreak in over a decade.

There's a spike and increase in cases when comparing last flu season to our current one.

"It's epidemic. It's been huge and there's been a lot of admissions for flu, more than ever," said Dr. David Rosenberg, Cleveland Clinic.

Tri-State hospitals are in fight mode, many taking extra precautions by limiting visitors.  

"In December we saw 25 cases of flu in the Department of Emergency at UC Medical Center. Just last week we saw 18 cases come through. We are asking visitors with upper or lower respiratory illness (fever, cough, sneezing, draining nose) not to visit family and friends at the hospital at this time," said Dr. Madhuri Sopirala, Director of Infection Control, UC Medical Center.

Unlike a bad cold, a symptom of the flu is a high fever.

" With the cold you will run a low-grade fever, 99-100. With the flu you are going to run 101-104 temperature," said Menkendick.

The first line of defense is a flu shot. If you have not had a flu shot, now is the time.   

Shanna Piper of Independence did not get vaccinated last year. She was at the Little Clinic in Fort Mitchell getting a flu shot Monday. Piper said she got vaccinated because she doesn't want her toddler to get sick.

"I've been hearing all kinds of epidemics, especially Northern Kentucky so I felt it was necessary at this point," said Piper.

The prevention steps are simple:

  • Take care of yourself
  • Wash your hands  
  • Stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing
  • Get eight hours of sleep per night
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat healthy

If you are experiencing flu symptoms you need to get to the doctor or clinic within 24 to 48 hours.

According to the CDC, the flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Patients with flu symptoms are given the flu test, which is a nasal swab that takes 10 minutes. If they test positive, they are prescribed an anti-flu medicine, like Tamiflu.

Some parts of the Tri-State are running low in stock of Tamiflu, but there is not a shortage.

The flu started early this year and experts estimate there are still five weeks left.

Pharmacies, doctors' offices and clinics are all offering the flu shot.

The Little Clinic

Take Care Clinic

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