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Stomach flu striking many, flu shot not helpful

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

SIKESTON -- When Kim Ziegler woke up one morning last week, she felt as though she had been hit by a truck.

"It couldn't be the flu," she thought. "I've had my shot." Ziegler was right. It wasn't the flu. It was the stomach flu -- no relation to the real thing. Forty-eight hours later she was feeling better, but not 100 percent normal.

Although it's not an epidemic, some area facilities are noticing an increase in people experiencing the stomach flu.

"It's just that time of year," said Judy Johnson, Missouri Delta Medical Center emergency room manager. "It's not a great number, but we've seen a few cases a -- nothing too drastic."

Actually, Johnson noted the flu/viral season has come later than usual this year - it usually begins around Thanksgiving. And it's people of all age groups are who coming in sick, Johnson said.

Residents and staff at the Clearview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center have both been affected by the virus. Assistant Director of Nursing Deanna Tanner had the virus and so did her husband. "There's not a whole bunch, but there's definitely something going around," Tanner said.

However, the residents and staff at Miner Nursing Center haven't really been affected. Loretta Magee, administrator of social services, said she hopes it stays that way.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, can be caused by many different viruses. However, it's not caused by the same viruses that cause the flu, and therefore a flu shot is not helpful.

Some symptoms of the stomach flu include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. An affected person may also have headache, fever and abdominal cramps. Most cases last between 24 hours and three to four days but some can last up to 10 days, Johnson said.

Marian Malone, school nurse at the Sikeston Public Schools Kindergarten Center, said she's noticed a drop in attendance due to the stomach flu. It's nothing out of the normal.

"It happens this time every year," Malone said. "Everybody's staying inside. I read somewhere that you're more likely to contract a virus when you're in close contact with others."

The CDC agrees. The stomach flu is contagious which is why outbreaks can occur in institutional settings, such as schools child care facilities, nursing homes and other group settings, such as work places, banquet halls and cruise ships, according to the CDC.

Older students appear to be avoiding the virus, too -- at least for now. Officials at Sikeston Senior High and Sikeston elementary schools said they haven't noticed a tremendous increase in the number of stomach-flu--related absences.

In general, the stomach flu is not a serious illness; however, it can be for those who are unable to drink enough fluids to replace what they lose during the illness.

"They should drink clear liquids until they can hold something down," Johnson recommended. "And take frequent sips of fluids so dehydration doesn't occur."

When extreme dehydration occurs, patients are sometimes hospitalized to receive fluids.

A couple weeks ago, a pregnant Renee Burnett went into labor while having the stomach flu, but said she wasn't hurting that bad. Her body was just aching all over.

"I couldn't eat or drink anything because I was sick. I knew that wasn't good for the baby and that I'd probably become dehydrated," Burnett said.

Burnett and her husband, who was also sick, went to the hospital because she was having contractions. It was there where she received two bags of fluid. The Burnetts felt a lot better after they had their baby girl.

No vaccine or medicine are currently available that prevent viral gastroenteritis. Johnson noted some doctors are writing prescriptions for anti-nausea medications and other pain relieving medications.

"When you're sick, it just takes a toll on your body," Johnson said. "There's nothing you can do. You just have to let it run its course."