A 10-day flu is hitting U.S. military communities in Europe hard, and officials are warning it could stick around until May.

“The medical lab at Landstuhl (Regional Medical Center) had a doubling of the number of influenza specimens sent in for analysis (recently),” Europe Regional Medical Command spokeswoman Jeri Chappelle said Wednesday.

There have been 118 confirmed cases of influenza among U.S. military communities this flu season, according to figures in the U.S. European Command Influenza Surveillance Report.

The number of cases has spiked recently, according to the report, with most cases — 68 — occurring in Germany. The report is produced by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Europe.

“There has been a recent increase of influenza cases reported in Europe among U.S. beneficiaries,” according to Dr. (Lt. Col.) William Corr, preventive medicine consultant for Europe Regional Medical Command. “Our outlying clinics and hospitals are sending more specimens to test, and a significant number are turning out to be influenza.”

This flu may not go away for a while, warned Isabel Tilzey, a community health nurse stationed in Vilseck, Germany.

“The flu we have is winter flu,” she said. Typically, the flu season runs from October to March, but Tilzey said this year’s season could last as late as May.

U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr issued a flu warning to government workers in an e-mail this week. Franz Zeilmann, a spokesman for the garrison, said Wednesday the warning was to let people know the virus – which he said was no worse than in previous years — lasts about 10 days.

This year’s flu symptoms range from fever, nausea and diarrhea to coughing, sneezing, sore throats, running noses and sore muscles, Tilzey said.

The best protection is a flu shot, although regular hand-washing also helps prevent spread of the virus, she said.

On average, the strains of flu common in Germany this winter last about 10 days, and many people — 75 percent to 90 percent — can go on with their normal routine while they are sick, Tilzey said.

However, people with severe symptoms should rest and not attend work or school, she said.

“You have to be very careful with children and elderly. Anyone with health concerns will have a stronger case,” Tilzey said.

Parents should be concerned if children under 3 months old have a fever of more than 100.5 degrees, or if older children have a fever greater than 101 degrees. Other signs of a severe flu case include vomiting more than once or having diarrhea more than three times in 24 hours, she said.

In many cases, the best treatment for flu involves over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or Motrin for fever, Tilzey said.

“If they (children) are vomiting and having diarrhea, limit their food intake and after an hour or two start giving them a teaspoon of fluid like Gatorade every 15 minutes,” she said. “Then start a BRAT diet – bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast. These are the blandest foods out there.”

If self-care does not help, people can call a nurse advice line at 0800-825-1600 from a land line, she said.

And if you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, it’s not too late.

“It is still a good idea to become immunized,” Corr said.

The Vilseck Medical Clinic has 1,000 flu shots left, Tilzey added.

Influenza cases

A look at the number of lab-confirmed influenza cases this flu season in U.S. European Command:

Belgium – 7 England – 4 Germany – 68 Italy – 11 Portugal – 1 Spain – 11 Turkey – 16Total – 118

Source: U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Europe.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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