Flu, head colds making rounds across valley

Pharmacist John Howard checks numbers on a prescription Thursday at Walgreens Drug Store on Park Drive. Seasonal illnesses such as respiratory and stomach-related viruses are keeping pharmacists busy in recent weeks.

The complaints began in force three weeks ago.

Sinus congestion. Stuffy noses. Coughing. All symptoms of the viruses, infections and bouts of influenza pharmacists such as Stacie Jay hear about each February.

“It seems like everyone and their dog is coming in,” Jay, a pharmacy co-manager at the Walgreens at 240 W. Park Drive, said Thursday.

Local cases of influenza are being reported at a “normal” level so far this year, according to Mesa County Health Department spokeswoman Karen Martsolf. But plenty of co-workers and classmates have been spreading other seasonal illnesses in addition to the flu.

Hilltop’s employee health nurse, Marlys Harman, said she mostly has seen a respiratory virus and a stomach-related virus circulating through various employee circles in Hilltop buildings. She advises people to go home when they’re sick, but that doesn’t always dissuade her colleagues.

“Just like most people, we come to work or go to the grocery stores” when sick, she said.

While staying home is widely suggested for sick employees, it can become an issue if someone is working on a temporary or trial basis. Express Employment Owner Nina Anderson said two clients she placed with companies on a trial basis were too sick to show up to work for several days and were consequently fired before they could reach permanent status in their jobs.

“They were legitimately sick,” Anderson said. “Some people have been sick for an extremely long time, upwards of two months.”

Even those who are the sickest don’t always slow down when they should. Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke believes more people are venturing out this winter, sick or not, because of mostly-mild temperatures. Schwenke said she talked to four people who attended a Chamber After Hours event Tuesday who said they were on medication for strep throat or thought they may have it.

“I think what we’re seeing is more people out socializing at events than we did last year because it was so cold last year people just wanted to bundle up and get home,” she said. “I think there’s more people out on the streets making sales calls, taking people to lunch, attending breakfasts, and probably taking (illness) back to their workplaces.”

Sinus pressure and head cold symptoms spread around the administrative offices of Marillac Clinic recently, according to Community and Consumer Relations Director Kristy Schmidt. The symptoms finally hit her a few days ago.

“Once it gets started, it just starts going through. But I think most folks are hanging in there,” she said.

Whether people are toughing it and avoiding a doctor’s appointment or just getting sick at the same rate they always do in winter, Schmidt said Marillac Clinic hasn’t seen any more patients than is typical for this month.

Influenza-related hospitalizations are also at normal levels, with 25 flu-related hospitalizations recorded so far this season in Mesa County. Last year, the county hospitalized 102 people with influenza as fear surrounding the H1N1 flu strain increased awareness about the severity of the illness.

Although she doesn’t expect this year’s hospitalizations to catch up with last season’s, Martsolf said she wouldn’t be surprised if more flu cases are detected in the next few weeks.

“We are right in the middle of peak flu season,” she said. “We are seeing an increase in (flu) tests completed and starting to see some outbreaks in long-term care facilities and schools.”

Influenza became “widespread” in Colorado during the second week of January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the first state in the Upper Mountain West region to have its flu cases classified as “widespread,” which means several cases had been reported recently in at least half the state’s regions, and cases are on the rise.

Pharmacist Stacie Jay said the best way to keep those cases from rising much higher is to use a humidifier, drink plenty of fluids and wash hands as much as possible.

Flu vaccines are still available through the Health Department and many pharmacies and physicians’ offices.


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