By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
This season’s flu strain is packing a punch and is showing no sign of giving up anytime soon.
Though no “outbreaks” have been reported yet in Wood County, the flu has many local residents coughing, with fevers and headaches. On top of that, the H3N2 strain that is hitting throughout the U.S. also brings with it vomiting and diarrhea.
“It’s a bad flu season, said Alex Aspacher, community outreach coordinator with the Wood County Health District.
Part of the reason is that the H2N3 strain blanketing the country is resistant to the immunizations that many Americans got to ward off the flu.
“The vaccine is a little less effective against that strain,” Aspacher said.
Doctors’ offices and hospitals are required to report flu cases to the health district. As of last week, 38 Wood County residents had been hospitalized due to the flu. Public health officials realize there are many more local residents suffering from the flu who tough it out and do not seek medical care.
No deaths have been reported in Wood County, though Lucas County has seen one child and three adults die from the flu this season.
Those most susceptible to the H3N2 flu strain are people with weakened immune systems, the elderly and children.
Some Toledo area emergency rooms are struggling to handle all the flu cases flooding through their doors. Some hospitals have asked that flu sufferers seek care at other sites like urgent care centers, to relieve the demands on emergency rooms.
Wood County Hospital Emergency Department is handling the increased patient load so far.
“We are getting several flu cases,” said emergency department nursing supervisor Renee Baker. “They are right on track with other years.”
The symptoms being seen at the Wood County ER include respiratory issues and “a lot of nausea,” she said.
“So far we’ve been able to handle it. We haven’t had to divert anyone,” Baker said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found widespread influenza in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia. Doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms all over the country are feeling the impact from the flu.
Generally, people most at risk for complications are older people, children and people with weak immune systems.
It has been an early flu season that seems to be peaking now. According to the CDC, there were 11,718 new laboratory-confirmed cases during the week ending Jan. 6, bringing the season total to 60,161.
Those older than 65 represent the largest group hospitalized, though people within the 50-to-64 age range and children younger than 5 are also experiencing high rates of hospitalization.
H3N2 seasons are associated with higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths, as well as with lower vaccine effectiveness, possibly as low as 30 percent for this season. This strain tends to produce more severe symptoms, particularly among older persons.
Wood County Health District is providing information on how long-term care facilities can best respond to widespread influenza activity.
- Influenza generally spreads more quickly in inpatient facilities, and older people are at greater risk to acquire the illness and experience more serious symptoms. While influenza usually affects older people the most, it can also be severe or fatal for children and young adults. This year’s flu season has affected more people due partly to the more active and resilient H3N2 strain of the illness.
- The health district is reminding health care facilities that they can minimize the spread of influenza with some simple guidance. This includes posting signage that encourages people to delay visits if they have a cough or flu symptoms, or acquire a protective mask to keep themselves and others safe if they must visit. Visitors should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer often.
- Influenza is a respiratory illness that is different than viral gastroenteritis, a digestive illness sometimes referred to as “stomach flu.” Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with influenza and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
- Increased influenza activity is also a good opportunity to remind the public of ways they can avoid the flu. Regularly wash your hands, cover your cough, and get a flu shot, if you haven’t already. If you get sick, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to make your symptoms milder, shorten the time you are sick, and reduce the risk of complications.