BY O.J. EARLY
Sniffling, sneezing and coughing are happening all over the region.
And it may be occuring more than normal in Greene County for this time of year, local health officials said this week.
Data from the county's two hospitals show that more local residents have experienced the flu so far this season compared to a year ago, an increase of at least 125 confirmed cases.
More than 600 people were tested for the flu at Takoma Regional Hospital from early-December 2013 through Jan. 7, with 198 positive results.
That's up from the 444 flu tests performed last year during the same time period, with 76 positive results, according to Dr. Daniel Lewis.
"It seems that we've been a little bit busier this year than we were last year," said Lewis, the hospital's chief medical officer. "We've had more patients admitted to the hospital this year."
Noah Roark, Laughlin Memorial Hospital human resources director, said Laughlin has seen an uptick in patients with the flu.
A total of 382 people were tested for the flu in December 2013 at Laughlin. Results for 67 of those came back positive, Roark said. There were 62 positive cases in December 2012.
The flu's impact in the region, though, appears average.
Just under 80 cases of flu-like illnesses were reported in eight Notheast Tennessee counties through Dec. 31, according to Beth Rader, public information officer for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office.
Not all medical providers report flu illnesses to the regional office, she said.
"We are continuing to see the cases rise," Rader said. "Right now, it looks like a normal year."
Officials from both local hospitals said that one of the main circulating strains of the flu is H1N1, known also as the swine flu -- the same strain that caused a global pandemic in 2009-10.
"One of the two common strains going around is H1N1, known as the swine flu," Lewis said Tuesday. "That is the predominant strain."
Lewis said this year's version of the flu is striking middle-aged adults and adolescents.
That's a reversal from last year, when the dominant flu strain was H3N2. It tended to infect the older population.
Flu vaccines this year offered good protection against the H1N1 strain, Lewis, Roark and Rader said.
Officials said the best defense against the flu is the vaccine. Other ways to prevent the spread of flu include good hygiene and hand-washing.
"If you did receive your flu shot this year, you hopefully did not get sick," Lewis said. "If you did, it's much more mild that it would have been otherwise."
Flu season runs from January through March in East Tennessee. Nine people have died in Middle Tennessee from complications of the flu this flu season, the Nashville Tennessean reported Tuesday.
"It seems like it has hit harder this year," Lewis said. "We still may not have reached the peak yet."