Flu reports on the increase

Tuesday, January 4th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A biotechnology company that tracks flu diagnoses has given Oklahoma its highest alert for the presence of flu following a jump in the number of positive flu tests reported by doctors in the state.

Oklahoma City-based ZymeTx Inc. has developed a swab test used in doctors' offices to confirm the presence of Type A or B flu. More than 3,650 physicians nationwide use the test, which is 99 per cent accurate. Results are reported to the company's National Flu Surveillance Network, which posts its findings on the Internet. One hundred doctors across Oklahoma report to the network.

ZymeTx has issued less alarming "flu alerts" for 10 states, including Montana and Michigan, where health departments have reported an overwhelming number of flu cases. Since November, the Oklahoma Health Department has confirmed only one case of the flu. But some area hospitals, swamped by a surge in patients complaining of upper respiratory illness, are alerting ambulance services to take patients to other facilities.

Although body aches, fever and coughing associated with the flu spur patients to seek quick treatment, emergency room visits aren't always necessary. Dr. David James, a family practitioner in Edmond, said that while flu symptoms can be unbearable, coughing probably won't be fatal. Usually only those suffering a chronic disease, breathing problems or possible dehydration need emergency treatment. "Generally healthy people can ride out the flu," he said. In the past few weeks, the majority of James' patients have complained of flu symptoms. Using the ZymeTx test, the doctor found about half actually had the flu. James said respiratory viruses similar to the flu crop up during flu season each year.