Many Fort Wayne pharmacies were completely out of flu vaccine or had a limited supply by Friday afternoon.
A pharmacy assistant at Walgreens on Bluffton Road said it was out of vaccine and no other store she knew of had it, although they were expecting new shipments Monday.
Dr. Deborah McMahan, commissioner of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, said while there is no shortage of flu vaccine nationally, local medical facilities and pharmacies were inundated with flu vaccine requests, which may have caused an area shortage that she believes is temporary.
Patient panic is what registered nurse Jan Davies said has happened in the past few days. She works for Dr. Nehal Singh, a family-practice physician with offices on Dupont Circle.
There's been a lot of media attention and people just reacted, she said.
The waiting rooms were overflowing, phones were constantly ringing and Davies said they were seeing a lot of patients with flu-like symptoms.
"We usually recommend old-fashioned treatments like a vaporizer, gargling with salt water or a menthol rub," she said.
Flu symptoms, such as fever, chills, body aches and dry cough, usually begin one to four days after a person has been exposed to the flu virus, but a person can be contagious even before having symptoms.
Dr. Brent Coil, who has an office on Rothman Road, said he has seen a tremendous number of people in the past few weeks.
"This flu season is well ahead of what we've seen in recent years," he said. "We're very busy and getting lots of calls and are overbooked."
Neither Singh nor Coil test for the flu.
"Once we know it's in town, there's no need to test," Coil said. "Unfortunately, there's not a lot we can do. We treat the symptoms and recommend lots of fluids and rest."
Coil said his office had 10 doses left, and he does not plan to order more.
That's because the vaccine takes from two to four weeks to offer full immunity, he said.
By the time they would order another supply and the vaccines would take effect, the flu season may have peaked, he said.
According to the Department of Health, flu season usually peaks in February.
But McMahan said it's not too late to get the flu vaccine.
"No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but a flu shot is still the best defense against getting and spreading the flu," McMahan said.
So far, there have been 15 influenza-related deaths in Indiana, including two in Allen County, according to McMahan.
Those two people were elderly, she said.
"The flu can be especially dangerous to the young, the elderly, and those with already compromised immune systems, so it is important that you do not expose people unnecessarily," McMahan said.
Many people think they have the flu when they don't, she said.
"There's a ton of viral activity out there that is not influenza," she said, "a lot of colds and upper-respiratory illnesses."
The flu vaccine will not protect against those types of illnesses, McMahan said. It is effective only against three strains of the flu.
Vaccinated or not, people need to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer frequently and strengthen their immune system by eating a healthy diet and getting eight hours of sleep a night to stay healthy, she said.
Parkview Health offered hundreds of doses of free flu mist vaccines to children Friday and will repeat the effort in Warsaw on Monday.
Influenza can be dangerous for children, with severe complications most common in children younger than 2. Children commonly need medical care when they fall ill with the flu, especially those younger than 5.
Lutheran Health facilities offer kiosks near each doorway that supply visitors with masks, hand sanitizer and tissues and are restocked daily, said Geoff Thomas, spokesman for the group.
Much of the protocol, practices and readiness now in place in hospitals and health clinics were initiated during the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2009 H1N1 flu virus outbreak, Thomas said.
Neither hospital group has issued a moratorium on visitors, although signs at Lutheran's kiosks request that any visitor feeling ill or experiencing flu-like symptoms please reconsider their visit.
Antiviral flu medications are available, but quantities are limited, and the medications are reserved for the most severe cases, said Eric Clabaugh, spokesman for Parkview Health.
"We will continue to monitor and re-evaluate the situation as we work with the Department of Health," Clabaugh said.
If someone feels ill and is unsure whether or not it's influenza, they should call or see their family doctor and explain the symptoms, Clabaugh said.