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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

It's Not the Flu, but Something Is Going Around

Health: Doctors and pharmacists confirm an unseasonable increase in patients who are suffering from respiratory problems.

September 22, 2000|PAUL M. ANDERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A viral bug has landed early in Ventura County this year and it's packing a bite.

That's what doctors across Ventura County are saying as they continue to treat a wave of patients this week complaining of sore throats, runny noses, high fever and other discomforting cold-like symptoms.

It's not the flu, but a virus affecting the upper respiratory system that acts a lot like that more well-known bug, doctors say.

"We're calling it the summer cold. It's either sinusitis or bronchitis," said Dr. Lin Hunt of Newbury Park Family Practice and Urgent Care. "Normally, this isn't the flu or bronchitis season."

The flu season usually arrives when the temperature dips in November or December, doctors say.

Hunt said she she started to see a trend of upper respiratory ailments just before school started earlier this month. That's unusual because the bug usually gets going right after kids return to school, Hunt said.

It's not uncommon for an outbreak to happen right after the first days of school because the students often bring home the germs they pick up at school, Hunt said.

Many area doctors initially credited the uptick in sick folks to allergies usually associated with the end of summer.

But a week into what many are calling a viral epidemic, many doctors have changed their minds. In Oxnard and Ventura, doctors confirmed that the rate of patients complaining of cold-like symptoms is far above what's normal for the end of summer.

While doctors are writing the prescriptions for fevers, achy muscles and hacking coughs, the pharmacists are filling them.

"In the last week or two I've seen a big increase in antibiotics you don't normally see ordered in the summer," said pharmacist Kent Miles, who owns the Home Care Pharmacy in Simi Valley. "You usually just see those in the winter, so I'm not sure what's being treated. But quite a few of the prescriptions were for kids."

The most common prescription was for the antibiotic Zithromax, he said. Patients were also buying cough syrup to go with it, indicating that the patients had some kind of respiratory infection, Miles said.

Miles said he has filled about 25 orders for antibiotics this week. He normally doesn't fill any orders for antibiotics this time of year.

While Miles is seeing more prescriptions for children, Hunt said most of her patients are adults.

The most common complaints are for congestion and painful sinuses, Hunt said.

It's no different in Oxnard, said Dr. Miguel Cervantes of the Las Islas Family Medical Group.

"I've seen a number of patients with fevers, coughs, and asthmatics with worsening asthma as a result of infections," Cervantes said. "It's probably a virus. They come in with a fever and they also have more upper-respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throats. All those symptoms usually go along with an infection."

Emergency room doctors at Simi Valley Hospital have also noticed an influx of patients suffering from bronchial infections in the past couple of weeks, said hospital spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez. But it was uncertain whether a virus was the culprit, she added.

Diagnosing virus-related illnesses can be difficult, said Dr. Chandrashekhar Joshi of the Simi Valley Urgent Care Center. Patients sometimes confuse a sinus infection with bronchitis, he said; the difference is a wheeziness in the lungs.

Allergy sufferers should be on guard against sinus infections, especially in Simi Valley, Joshi said. Pollen and brush steadily tumble down the mountains into the valley where high winds whisk them to allergic sinuses, he added.

The cure?

Allergy sufferers should use nondrowsy prescription antihistamines and keep their air conditioning on and the windows closed in the car and at home, Joshi said.

As for the virus, doctors recommend medication such as Tylenol, as well as vitamin C, lots of fluids and plenty of rest. If the problem persists, consult a physician. For more serious problems, physicians will probably prescribe antibiotics.

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