Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

January 14, 2013

TIDBITS: I’ve had enough of the cuddly flu

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — I’ve got a new “must have” item for my desk — a plush doll of MRSA. It’s not as adorable as the cuddly looking regular staph infection doll, and comes complete with a sinister black cape.

Those are just two of the plush microbes available, but there’s a full line with everything from bad breath to blood platelets and bed bugs. The dolls are made by Giantmicrobes, Inc., founded in 2002 by Drew Oliver to offer unique, interesting gifts for kids and grown-ups and that offer a little educational tidbit along with laughs.

I spotted some of these this past weekend while on a work assignment for the upcoming Road Trip feature, and I was fascinated.

I rang in the new year with the flu and it was the most miserable experience I’ve had in many years. I’m one of those that doesn’t get the flu shot, mostly because there’s a needle involved in the process and I’m very much anti-needle in my beliefs. And I suffered the consequences of those beliefs with four days spent pretty much glued to the couch with waves of fever and chills, aches and pains and lacking the energy to do much more than sleep. Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with a 7-inch flu doll. He didn’t look so tough. How could he and his little friends defeat me so handily?

I suppose I should technically say I was defeated by a “flu-like illness” because I also didn’t seek treatment for the flu. I know there’s medicine that can shorten the severity and duration of the flu, but it has to be taken soon after you experience symptoms. Being the stubborn, hard-headed person I am, I was just sure I’d be better in a day or so and I didn’t go to the doctor right away.

Across the country, waves of people are falling ill from flu-like illnesses, and the Centers for Disease Control reports flu-like illness continues to be elevated in Region 4, which includes Tennessee. That could point to a flu season that is worse than usual, the CDC warns. And it’s not even close to being finished. Flu season typically peaks in January and February. After getting a flu shot, it can take two weeks for the body to produce antibodies to fight off an infection.

If you haven’t had a flu shot yet, you should consider getting it now. The Cumberland County Health Department is offering free flu shots to walk-ins Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Call 484-6196 for more information. The area is lucky. Some news reports in the state point to diminishing supplies of vaccine, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Getting a flu shot doesn’t provide the patient with a magical shield against getting the flu, but medical experts say its the best way to protect yourself. 

The CDC monitors flu strains around the world and then makes its best guess at the strains that will circulate in the U.S. This year the vaccine targets two Influenza A types and one Influenza B type.

Doctors still see people with flu-like illnesses that got their yearly shot, but it does provide some protection. Healthy individuals can have effectiveness of 60 to 70 percent, according CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. It’s less effective for the elderly or those with low immune systems.

Those people are also the ones most at risk for complications from the flu, along with young children. And even after the flu has had its fun and left for other bodies, people can have lingering effects or secondary bacterial infections. If you’re still hacking up a lung after your achy body has recovered from fever and chills, you may need to see your doctor again.

If you’re hoping to make it through this flu season unscathed, you can still get your flu shot. It’s also important to practice good hygiene, including washing your hands or using hand sanitizer often. If you are sick, the best thing for you and everyone around you is for you to stay home and rest, getting plenty of fluids. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or cough into your elbow.

And please, don’t be offended when I dose you in a cloud of aerosol disinfectant. As cute as the flu bug may be as a plush toy, I have no desire to hang out with him or his friends anymore this year.

• • •  

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published each Tuesday. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.