For the week of March 3, Southern Ohio Medical Center saw roughly 500 cases of influenza, said April Sanders, a registered nurse who also serves as SOMC’s infection protectionist.
“It’s been increasing, and it is quite a bit,” Sanders added, further noting a far larger number of people visited SOMC with flu-like symptoms but were not diagnosed with the illness.
“Of course, we seen an increase of hospitalized flu cases,” Sanders continued.
She further talked about how several local school districts in Scioto County and across the river in Kentucky were closed recently because of flu outbreaks or the fear of flu outbreaks.
While the 500 cases diagnosed recently is a definite increase over previous weeks, Sanders said the figure is not out of line with what the hospital saw in 2018.
“I wouldn’t say it’s atypical for flu season,” Sanders added.
Nevertheless, out of what Sanders called an abundance of caution, SOMC has temporarily adjusted its visitation policies in response to the uptick in flu cases. She noted SOMC is concerned with visitors who might be unknowingly carrying the flu bug visiting the hospital and inadvertently spreading the illness to hospitalized patients already compromised by some other medical condition. She noted persons who are developing the flu can be contagious for up to a week prior to showing any symptoms.
“We decided to be proactive and hopefully decrease the spread of flu in our facilities,” Sanders said, further noting SOMC instituted the same policy during the 2018 flu season.
Until instances of the flu subside, SOMC is allowing no visitors under the age of 12. The hospital will not allow any visitors with symptoms of flu-like illness including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches or fatigue. Only two visitors will be permitted in any patient’s room at one time. Visitors may be issued masks or other protective clothing when visiting. And finally, additional restrictions may be in place in special care units such as pediatrics, critical care, heart care and oncology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported there were over 80,000 flu-related deaths in 2018. The 2019 flu-related death toll sits at approximately 22,300, with more than 250,000 people hospitalized. The CDC website warns influenza activity remains elevated in the U.S. Sanders noted according to CDC information several of the states surrounding Ohio have higher levels of flu than Ohio itself.
“So, we anticipate that we could rise to higher levels,” Sanders said. “That’s just our internal speculation.”
Sanders said to the best of her knowledge there have been no fatalities due to the flu locally, though an undetermined number of people have been hospitalized, and as previously noted, that number is on the rise. However, on the plus side, Sanders did note many of the 500 flu cases reported last week involved outpatient diagnoses.
According to the CDC, several strains of flu are beginning to make the rounds across the country. Locally, Sanders said SOMC has seen what she called, in no doubt simplified terms, strain A and strain B. She emphasized getting vaccinated still is the best protection against the flu. Sanders also argued it’s not too late to get a flu shot, even though the vaccine takes about a week or two to become fully effective after an injection is received.
Because of the increased risk posed by multiple spreading strains of the flu, in a press release, Visiting Angels advertised as one of the nation’s largest providers of in-home senior care, is encouraging families to make sure their senior loved ones not only are vaccinated, but suggest families follow a caregiver checklist when it comes to protecting older household members from flu through the end of flu season, which can be as late as May.
Visiting Angels warns flu symptoms may be different in senior citizens. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found 26% of hospitalized seniors with flu did not exhibit the usual symptoms like fever, body aches or a cough.
Flu symptoms in elderly patients are said to possibly include weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite and delirium.
Visiting Angels also suggested the following steps to combat the flu, especially when dealing with senior citizens:
• Constantly wipe away flu germs. The CDC reports viruses can live on surfaces for 24 hours and people with the flu can spread it to others up to six feet away. Throughout flu season use paper towels while cleaning. Germs like to grow in wet, moist areas like sponges and towels. Use paper towels with a disinfectant spray to frequently wipe down counter tops, door knobs, light switches, railings and other surfaces a senior might touch throughout the day. You also can use sanitizing wipes as a backup.
•Frequently wash hands. Flu germs easily spread when someone touches their nose, mouth or eyes. Health officials recommend you wash hands with soap and water.
•Help seniors relax during flu season, make sure they get plenty of rest. Experts advise seven to nine hours of sleep a night to help build up immunity.