Flu cases surge locally
Confirmed cases of influenza and reported cases of influenza-like illness in Morgan County have escalated over the past two weeks, according to War Memorial Hospital and Morgan County Health Department officials. The rise in suspected flu cases began in mid-December.
Area physician offices and emergency rooms have been swamped with increasing numbers of people with flu-related symptoms. Everyone is being flooded with flu cases, said Morgan County and Berkeley County Health Department Administrator Bill Kearns.
War Memorial Hospital President Neil McLaughlin said that the number of hospital emergency room patients almost doubled over the weekend and were some of the highest totals they’d had. Many of those cases were due to flu-like symptoms.
The flu hadn’t significantly impacted the numbers of War Memorial Hospital in-patients. A visitor restriction policy was implemented to curtail the spread of the flu virus.
McLaughlin said that all of the Valley Health hospitals had been at 100% capacity or more over the past few weeks. Winchester Medical Center had been caring for patients in hallways and holding areas until they could find hospital beds.
Kearns said that in Berkeley County there had been 100 confirmed cases of flu reported last year from January through November. In December alone, there were 184 confirmed cases reported.
The flu season began earlier than usual this year. It doesn’t generally peak until February or March, he said.
There has been 30 cases of influenza-like illness reported by local physicians and eight Influenza A cases that were confirmed by laboratory cultures since the beginning of January, said Morgan County Health Department nurse Patty Caldwell. Numbers of reported cases had been sporadic and in small clusters in previous weeks.
Cases of influenza-like illness are counted as unconfirmed flu cases because cultures aren’t submitted for laboratory confirmation for those patients. Numbers of cases are difficult to estimate in flu surges since unconfirmed influenza-like illness cases may go unreported.
Hospital visitor restrictions
Valley Health instituted a visitor restriction policy beginning Sunday, January 13 at War Memorial Hospital, Winchester Medical Center, Hampshire County Hospital and its other area facilities.
All visitors to War Memorial Hospital and other Valley Health hospitals were required to be at least 18 years of age. Patients could only have two visitors at a time. Visiting hours were limited to four hours a day, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m.
Those with active symptoms of flu-like illness such as fever, coughing or sneezing should avoid visiting. The visitor restriction would be in effect until further notice for the duration of the flu season, McLaughlin said.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.
Kearns anticipated that visitor restrictions at long-term care facilities will also be implemented until the flu season was over.
Flu shots still advised
McLaughlin, Kearns and Caldwell all advised that those who hadn’t gotten a flu shot yet should get one now. Flu season would be going on for some time and the immunity increases over a period of two weeks after receiving a flu shot, McLaughlin said.
Mclaughlin noted that people they were seeing in the emergency room with flu symptoms hadn’t had a flu shot.
Some health care providers may be out of flu vaccines now, which is usual for this time of year. Flu shots were still available at the Morgan County Health Department and at local pharmacies. Kearns expected to use up the last of their Berkeley County Health Department flu vaccine stock this week.
Call the Health Department at 304-258-1513 to make an appointment for a flu vaccine or stop by, Caldwell said. Call first before coming without an appointment to make sure a nurse is there. The Health Department is open between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone over the age of six months to protect against influenza. It’s also important for those who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza like pneumonia to get a flu shot.
Those at high risk include young children, people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, people age 65 years or older and household contacts and caregivers of those at high risk.
Wash hands, stay isolated
Kearns recommended that people continue to wash their hands often as they go through their normal routines. Stay isolated and not be in large groups of people, if possible.
McLaughlin said that people should be cautious of going to large gatherings in enclosed areas and modify their behavior if doing so. Coughing, sneezing and hand-shaking are conducive to transfer of the flu virus.
Flu season may be a good time to substitute a shoulder pat for a hand shake, McLaughlin noted.