VNA expects more flu cases

— Along with the visitors who come to Steamboat to ski and snowboard come their germs. That's one of the reasons Patsy Ford, Visiting Nurse Association public health nurse, thinks Steamboat will soon see even more cases of the influenza virus throughout January and into February and March.

Colorado is the only state in the country to be classified as having a "widespread" flu outbreak by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national center for infectious diseases. In the past week, the number of reported cases of the flu in Colorado jumped from 439 to 762, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

Steamboat Springs has seen at least six cases of influenza, according to local health professionals, but some think the virus could be coming this way in larger numbers soon.

Ford said the fact that Steamboat is a resort community makes it somewhat more prone to viruses such as influenza and if the Front Range is getting hit now, Steamboat probably won't be far off.

"It hasn't gotten here in any strong numbers yet, but it looks like its on its way," Ford said.

Both Yampa Valley Medical Center and the Steamboat Medical Group have diagnosed three people with influenza this winter and have tested many more with flu-like symptoms.

Vaccinations are still available from a number of different organizations and medical centers. The VNA has roving clinics to vaccinate people at stations throughout the city. Thursday, the VNA was in City Market and today will vaccinate people at Safeway from 4 to

6 p.m. The VNA has already given about 1,900 doses of the vaccine, which costs $15, Ford said.

The Steamboat Medical Group will be vaccinating people for $13 next week without an appointment and offers to go to offices to vaccinate people where they work, said Mary Dierdorff, a nurse at the office. Dierdorff said the Steamboat Medical Group has diagnosed three people with influenza, most recently on Thursday.

Christine McKelvie, public relations director for the Yampa Valley Medical Center, said the flu has affected people of all ages, including one 21-year-old man.

The stomach flu, according to Ford, is not really "the flu." The flu, which attacks the respiratory system, can progress into pneumonia or other serious respiratory illnesses to the point where it becomes life-threatening, Ford said.

The people who die tend to be more than 65 years old or have heart and lung problems. A healthy younger person who is infected by the virus can expect to be plagued by chills, high fever, muscle aches and a cough and will miss an average of three days of work.

Influenza kills 40,000 people each year and costs Americans $12 billion a year in lost work days and medical expenses, according to information from the Outreach Program at University Hospital in Denver.

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