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Cold virus on the spread in Manatee

MANATEE — A nasty cold bug has Manatee County in its grip, local clinics and doctors reported Tuesday.

That’s old news to victims who have already succumbed to waves of fatigue, followed by scratchy throats, congested sinuses, hacking coughs and tight chests. The symptoms never seem to ebb.

“I know,” said Vernon DeSear, Manatee Memorial Hospital spokesman. “I was sick for three weeks.”

Despite this cold bug’s fast spread, the respiratory infection it causes has not reached epidemic proportions as it has elsewhere in the nation, DeSear said.

“While our emergency room has seen an increase, it’s nothing more than we would expect to see this time of year, but we are seeing a lot of people come in with the three-week variety of cold,” he said.

Blake Medical Center reports a typical volume of patients with bronchitis for this time of year, but doctors have noticed that patients are sicker that usual, said spokeswoman Stephanie Petta.

“We are having to admit more people with upper respiratory infections than in past years,” said Petta. “Our doctors speculate that it may be because people have lost their insurance and wait to be seen.”

So far, Blake has not had a confirmed case of influenza, which is good news, considering that Manatee County is surrounded by the flu. The Florida Department of Health’s weekly surveillance map shows widespread flu in Hillsborough and Polk counties. Pinellas and Sarasota have localized cases of flu, meaning two or more outbreaks in the same setting. Manatee and De-Soto counties report sporadic or isolated flu cases.

Bradenton Urgent Care, 4647 Manatee Ave. W., had two confirmed cases of flu last week, reports Teri Folkens, RN and clinic manager. “We are seeing an increase in flu-like symptoms, and lots of people with the upper respiratory virus. It’s due to our harsh winter. One day it is nice, the next day it is freezing. You see this pattern of extreme temperatures up north, but not so much here, except for this winter.”

Folkens warned that left untreated, those upper respiratory infections can lead to pneumonia, especially in the young and elderly.

“There are treatments available depending upon a patient’s condition, so it’s important to be seen by a doctor or a clinic to determine what is going on,” she said.

Dr. George VanBuren, medical director for Manatee County Rural Health, urged parents of sick children to contact their doctors.

“We are seeing a lot of little kids with parainfluenza,” Van Buren said.

“Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs) are second to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as a common cause of lower respiratory tract disease in young children,” states the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site.

“Similar to RSV, HPIVs can cause repeated infections throughout life, usually manifested by an upper respiratory tract illness. HPIVs can also cause serious lower respiratory tract disease with repeat infection (pneumonia, bronchitis, and bronchitis), especially among the elderly, and among patients with compromised immune systems.”

VanBuren warns that treating colds in children is difficult given a recent advisory from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that warns over-the-counter cold and cough remedies for children can be harmful if given too often or when two medications that include the same ingredient are combined.

VanBuren urged parents to call their doctors or pediatricians for advice or an appointment before giving their children any nonprescription medications.

Manatee Rural Health’s family clinics have seen an increase in upper respiratory infections among adults, as well as strep throat and bronchitis.

If you get sick, stay home from work, the CDC recommends. Those with the flu should stay home from work for at least three days after onset.

Employees with colds should stay home when they have fevers or coughs and sneezing that cannot be controlled with medications.

Prevention is key, said Dr. Gladys Branic, director of Manatee County Health Department.

“Wash your hands and don’t shake hands. We pick up germs primarily with our hands, so you need to keep them clean.”

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049.