McCOOK, Nebraska -- Darwin Scott did something this year he has never done before.
He got a flu vaccine.
Nebraska, like much of the nation, has been categorized by the Center for Disease Control as "widespread," the highest category.
Brett Schmitz, PA-C at Quality Urgent Care in McCook, said he's seeing more patients this year than last with the flu or flu-like illnesses, along with patients with the stomach flu.
This is typically the time of year when people come in with virus infections, he said, although this year there appears to more, Schmitz noted.
"We're busy, everyone is busy," Schmitz said.
Symptoms people are reporting are high temperatures of 103 to 105, he said, and severe body aches.
The severe body aches is a good indicator that it's the flu or flu-like illness and not the common cold, he said.
"They're saying everything hurts. I've heard some people describe it as even their hair hurts," he said.
He's seen patients of all ages, he said, many requesting Tamiflu, the antiviral medication used to treat flu symptoms caused by influenza.
If started within the first 48 hours, the anti-viral medication may reduce the severity of symptoms, Schmitz said, but that's not 100 percent the case for everyone.
Schmitz related about two patients, a husband and wife, who requested the medication. As it's expensive, the husband chivalrously paid for his wife to get it and did not get it himself. As it turns out, the husband recovered faster even without the medication, Schmitz said.
With the flu hanging around for about seven days, rest and drinking plenty of fluids are imperative, he said. Dehydration can lead to hospitalization.
As the flu virus attacks the immune system, those with compromised immune systems already, such as those with diabetes or MS, are at a higher risk for complications, he said, as well as those who are "burning the candle at both ends," he said, who are not getting enough rest or fluids.
Southwest Nebraska, as of Jan. 5, reported 31.49 percent of cases testing positive for flu, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on the CDC website.
Only one area ranked higher, North central Nebraska, near the South Dakota border, with 32.79 percent of cases testing positive for flu.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services weekly report for Dec. 30-Jan. 5, 2013, reports that this influenza season began earlier and has been more severe than previous influenza seasons. Trends suggest that the influenza outbreak is peaking and officials expect the virus to circulate at diminished levels in the coming weeks.
Bev Powers, RN at Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department, said her office has had only two cases testing positive for flu this week, compared to five the week before.
Schools in the area also appear to be doing well, with Powers reporting that only one school had 7.8 percent of absences due to flu or flu-like like symptoms. Most schools in the area are reporting 2 percent or less, she said, including at McCook. .
But numbers don't tell the whole story, Powers added, as parents often don't report the symptoms to the school or confuse the flu with the stomach virus.
Flu symptoms include a fever more than 101, cough or sore throat, accompanied by exhaustion/fatigue and body aches. The stomach flu includes vomiting and diarrhea and lasts for about two days
There have been three reported deaths in Nebraska due to the flu: one child and two adults. Total patients hospitalized for the flu or flu-like symptoms as of Jan. 5 were 545.
The flu is not only highly contagious but tenacious and stealthy. Each time someone with the flu sneezes, coughs or even speaks, thousands of particles containing the virus are released. With a sneeze, particles can travel up to 15 feet. And the droplets can last a long time, up to two days on non-porous surfaces, such as doorknobs.
Someone can have the flu for a couple of days before even showing symptoms. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick, according flu.gov. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days.
So what to do?
If you have the flu, don't be a martyr but stay home, doctors say.
If you are healthy and want to stay that way, get the vaccine, Powers said. Although this years vaccine doesn't prevent every single strain circulating this year, it does help the immune system fight off viruses.å
Stay rested and hydrated, Schmitz advised, and wash hands frequently.
And even if you do get ill, don't despair -- this, too, shall pass. Just buck up and take it like a man, like Darwin Scott.