US flu season worsens

Local hospital restrictions remain in place during outbreak

In this Thursday photo, Ana Martinez, a medical assistant at the Sea Mar Community Health Center, gives a patient a flu shot in Seattle. This year’s U.S. flu season got off to an early start, and it’s been driven by a nasty type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other common flu bugs. (AP photo)

Protect yourself, protect your neighbor

ISHPEMING — It’s one of the only seasons that no one looks forward to — flu season. And when it comes to preventing the spread of the virus, health care professionals are giving some basic advice; get vaccinated, and if you think you may have the flu, stay home.

UP Health System locations in Marquette and Ishpeming have been restricting hospital visitors since Dec. 8.

UPHS Infection Preventionist Amy Kilroy said 6 percent of all emergency department visits were related to the flu when the restrictions were first implemented.

“That rate is now down to 4 percent, but it’s almost double the norm, which is 2.2 percent,” Kilroy said during a phone interview Friday. “Restrictions are still in place as we are still seeing heightened flu activity in the area.”

Marquette County Health Department Medical Director Dr. Terry Frankovich recommends getting the vaccine, despite being at the midway point of the flu season.

“I would say that at this point in the year, it is still worthwhile,” Frankovich said. “I would argue that everyone in the community should get a flu shot.”

Frankovich said last year’s flu vaccine reduced the risk of getting the virus by about 39 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older gets vaccinated against the flu annually.

The vaccine may not prevent you from getting the flu, but CDC research shows that it can reduce the severity of the symptoms and the duration of the illness.

According to CDC flu surveillance reports, influenza A, H3N2, a virus often linked to more severe illness among young children and adults 65 and older, has been the most common form of the virus circulating this flu season.

While the severity of the outbreak is considered remarkable as yet, the scope of it is unique. The CDC is reporting widespread flu outbreaks in every state but Hawaii.

The agency recorded 31.5 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the U.S. for the week ending Jan. 13, and the outbreak is known to have caused 30 pediatric deaths in the U.S. since Oct. 1.

Frankovich said there are more pediatric deaths by far this year over last on a national scale, but none of those have occurred in Michigan.

“We have not had any pediatric deaths,” Frankovich said. “Adult deaths related to the flu are not reported the same way.”

Kilroy and Frankovich agree on several measures that can keep the flu from spreading:

≤ Reduce contact with people who are ill.

≤ If you are ill yourself, stay home. If you must go out in public, wear a face mask.

≤ Hand hygiene and washing your hands often is extremely important, as you can contract the virus by touching an infected surface and then touching your face.

≤ If you get the flu, only go to the emergency department if you are truly very ill.

≤ Anti-virals are best taken within the first 48 hours of when symptoms start.

≤ If you have the flu, stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings until your fever has been lowered without the use of a fever-reducing medicine such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

Above all, both local and national experts recommend getting vaccinated, and preferably as soon as possible.

“By virtue of everyone getting vaccinated, we protect the most vulnerable,” Frankovich said. “It’s a win-win; in protecting yourself, you protect your neighbor.”

Those wanting to get the vaccine should call their primary health care provider, Frankovich said. Otherwise, shots are available at the Marquette County Health Department.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.