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Say Hello To The Flu In Colorado

By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) - Within the last week or so, it seems like patients are coming to the office by the busload.

Headache, fever, chills and cough. Plus, a seemingly universal phrase of "I feel like I got hit by a truck."

The flu has arrived in Colorado with a bang, or may be a better way to put it is: with the need for a bed. The CDC is reporting a spike on their official influenza monitoring site for the illness, with Colorado now running at a level higher than most other states in America.

Flu test
(credit: Dr. Dave Hnida)

Influenza is a serious illness. It is not your typical cold or sniffles. This disease can really beat your body up.

People who get the flu typically can't leave the house, survive by lying on the couch or in bed, and then, don't get their sea legs and strength back for a couple of weeks.  And that's if there are no complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia or ear infections. For others, complications include heart attack or stroke.

Actually, the flu showing up now is not a major surprise.  Typically in Colorado, we begin to see an influx of cases around and right after the holidays.  People spend a lot of time together; there is more travel to or from other parts of the country; and simply a lot of holiday physical and mental stress.

RELATED: Visitors Restricted At Colorado Hospitals During Flu Season

So what are the symptoms of true influenza? One minute you are fine, the next every single body part hurts and your energy fuel tank reads zero.

But the good news is that it is not too late to get a flu shot.

The flu season typically extends well into the spring here in Colorado, so getting vaccinated will help you get through this season.  The vaccine takes approximately 2 weeks to reach full strength in terms of immunity but even prior to that time you will be at least partially protected.

And even if you've never gotten the flu before and think that you never will, several of the patients that I have seen are people who thought they were invincible.

As for people who should be immunized, well, it's basically almost everyone from ages 6 months onward.

When it comes to side effects, remember that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. It is made from a killed flu particles which are not infectious. If you do get a sore arm or some body aches the day or so after the vaccination, those symptoms are typically the result of your immune system going to work  as it builds antibodies.

And we typically do not like to immunize people who are actively sick with other illnesses.  The reason for that is not so much that you will get worse but the fact that if you are already sick, the flu vaccine may not take since your immune system is already busy at work.

One other thing to remember is that if you develop sudden symptoms of fever, headache, body aches and flulike symptoms, call your doctor.  We do have medications available that may lessen the severity and the duration of the flu provided we get that medication started within 48 hours of you getting ill.

It's also a good idea to work hard at keeping yourself healthy.  That means plenty of rest, regular exercise without overdoing it, low fat diet, minimal alcohol and lots of hand washing.

Final note: The prevention part of this whole thing is gigantic.  That's because flu is contagious beginning 24 hours before the sick person even becomes ill. That means your family or people that you work with may be spreading the germ to you without you even knowing.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4's Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida

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