By Erika Webb
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, medicine shelves became increasingly bare.
Two days after Christmas Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf died of complications from pneumonia, according to news reports. On Dec. 15, 14-year-old Maddie Umont, from DeLand, died after being hospitalized for flu-like symptoms and dehydration, her family said.
Many got flu shots yet contracted a gripping case of the flu anyway.
Flu activity continues to increase in the United States with high levels of activity in the South Central and Southeastern regions, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
The CDC's FluView weekly surveillance report showed, during the week of Dec. 16-22, influenza activity increased nationwide.
"The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness was 4.2 percent -- significantly above the national baseline of 2.2 percent," the CDC reported.
In the last week of December, the CDC revealed that all eight states in region four, which includes Florida, were reporting widespread (flu) activity, including four flu-related pediatric deaths. All U.S. regions but one reported elevated outpatient visits for influenza-like illness.
Lindsay Rew, a spokeswoman for Florida Hospital in Volusia County, provided last month's local findings in an e-mailed response to questions:
"At Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City, we are seeing more patients with upper respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. We also have seen more positive influenza results (both A and B) and patients with pneumonia," Ms. Rew wrote.
Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach and Florida Hospital Oceanside in Ormond Beach also saw similar cases, reporting an approximate 10 percent increase in flu-like illnesses, according to Ms. Rew.
She noted Florida Hospital DeLand saw an increase each week in respiratory complaints and positive flu tests in December.
"In the first week of December, there was one positive flu test, followed by two in the second week, five in the third week and eight the last week," she wrote.
"For the flu, the treatment is supportive -- rest, fluids, fever-reducing and ache-reducing medications, excellent hand washing, and anti-viral medication to shorten the duration of infections," Ms. Rew explained.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated against influenza each year.
But is it possible to be vaccinated against all strains?
Cnahealth.com reported that getting a flu shot does not guarantee avoidance.
"The flu vaccine only protects against a select group of flu viruses, not all of them, so the effectiveness of the flu shot depends on how well the viruses chosen for the vaccine match up with the flu viruses circulating in your area. Your age and immune system function can also impact the flu shot's effectiveness," the article stated.
DeLand resident Liz Panariello is a licensed EMT who works as a lifeguard at Walt Disney World in Orlando. She gets a flu shot every year.
"I prefer to have the shot because it decreases my chances of getting sick and being out of work for a couple of weeks or longer," Ms. Panariello said. "The flu shot enables me to be on top of my game because, as a lifeguard, I could be the difference between someone being OK and someone being injured."
Through ongoing medical training, she has been made aware of myths about the shot, she said. The first fallacy is the flu shot causes the flu.
"The shot cannot cause the flu illness," Ms. Panariello said. "The influenza viruses contained in the shots are inactivated during manufacturing. There is a two-week period for the body to gain protection (against the flu) following vaccination."
She said people who contract the flu shortly after getting the shot most likely were exposed to the virus prior to having the shot, or prior to the vaccine taking effect.
"I've gotten a flu shot every year, except for one, for 20 years and the one year I didn't, I was sick for two weeks," she said. "I'll never do that again."
Ms. Panariello said hand washing is another top safeguard against flu-like illnesses and that working at an international travel destination has her washing her hands "a zillion times a day."
"Of course eating right, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest are all good practices toward being healthy," she said.
Jennifer Johnston, M.Ed, recently opened The Healing Zone on Canal Street in New Smyrna Beach.
"I personally have never had a flu shot, nor would I ever choose to. I believe the risk is too great and there are many natural alternatives to avoiding the flu," Ms. Johnston said.
Prevention, she said, through creating and maintaining a strong, healthy immune system is the key to preventing the flu or the common cold.
"First, and foremost, the body needs to be PH balanced," she said. "Many people do not understand that in a perfectly balanced PH body, no disease can occur. Unfortunately, our American diet is highly acidic."
Ingesting 80 percent alkaline-forming foods and drinks and 20 percent acid-forming foods and drinks each day is a good rule of thumb, Ms. Johnston said.
Acid-forming substances to avoid are soft drinks, sugar, aspirin, tobacco, alcohol, coffee and most pharmaceutical drugs, she added.
Alkaline-forming foods are avocados, fresh fruits and vegetables, honey, molasses, onions and dates, Ms. Johnston said.
"Specific natural supplements to take to build the immune system and combat the flu and colds are Vitamin D, Garlic, Colloidal silver, Olive leaf extract, Echinacea, Astragalus, Catnip, and Goldenseal," she explained.