Flu is hitting earlier in the season

Be warned: The flu is already here.

Local clinics are seeing twice as many patients with the flu as normal, and the spike is coming at least a month before the flu season typically begins.

And this year’s flu shot is only partially effective, doctors said.

Schools are sending children home sick and reminding little ones how to properly wash their hands. Doctors are encouraging people to get their flu shots, since they can still help. And if you are sick, you are urged to see a doctor to get medication so you can recover more quickly.

Franciscan St. Francis Health Immediate Care centers in central Indiana are seeing double the normal number of flu cases for this time of year, immediate care center clinical director Dr. Greg Miller said. Typically, most flu cases are diagnosed in January or February, with February being the busiest month historically, he said.

Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis has been admitting an averaging of five patients with the flu per day, media relations manager Joe Stuteville said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had predicted a strong flu for this winter, which is proving to be accurate, Miller said.

And getting the flu vaccine will not guarantee you won’t catch the flu this winter.

The vaccines available are not 100 percent effective but rather subdue the effects of influenza. About 50 percent of the flu strains are covered by the vaccine, he said.

“If you are able to prohibit

50 percent of the cases, that’s significant,” Miller said.

If someone is vaccinated and gets the flu, the symptoms would be lessened, compared with if they had gone without the vaccine, Miller said.

Antiviral medicine can help with the symptoms and help people recover faster. The medicine is most effective within the first 48 hours of noticing symptoms, said Dr. Steven Martin, a doctor for MedExpress Urgent Care.

As soon as symptoms of fever, headaches, body aches or muscle spasms show up, patients are urged to see a doctor as quickly as possible, Martin said.

Schools are also watching out for the illness. Some students at Edinburgh schools already have been diagnosed with the flu, Edinburgh health coordinator Susan Lollar said.

They are reminding parents that, in order to prevent the virus from spreading, students must be fever-free without the use of medication for a full 24 hours before they can return to the classroom, she said.

She and other school nurses are speaking to students in early elementary school about properly washing hands and catching sneezes or coughs in their elbows.

Those most at risk of catching an illness during the winter are people ages 65 and older, 5 years old or younger, and especially children 2 years or younger. Pregnant women or woman two weeks postpartum are also at risk, Miller said.