Our community is currently experiencing a noticeable rise in instances of the influenza virus. In an effort to protect our staff, patients and visitors, we have adjusted the Parkview visitation policy to limit unnecessary exposure. For more on the rapid increase in cases, our temporary restrictions, and how to protect yourself against the illness, we sat down with Jeffrey Boord, MD, Chief Quality and Safety Officer, Parkview Health.
How would you describe this flu season so far?
It’s just getting underway, but in the last several weeks, we’ve seen a rapid increase in cases at our walk-in clinics (Parkview FirstCare) and emergency department. We had just over 300 laboratory confirmed cases in our hospitals and emergency departments this past week.
Are there more cases than in past years?
It’s difficult to estimate the exact number of cases because when the flu is so prevalent, we treat individuals if they are presenting with classic signs and symptoms. We can also do tests to confirm influenza. The State Department of Health estimates that 1/20 people coming in is presenting with influenza-like illness. Both the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring these cases.
Is this the peak of the season?
The flu season varies greatly year to year, and the peak varies year to year. We won’t really know if this is the height of occurrence until after it’s passed. Last year, we saw the peak later, in March. We only know that we’ve seen a rapid rise over the past 3-4 weeks. The number of laboratory confirmed cases has almost doubled over the last week.
Is this related to the effectiveness of this year’s flu shot?
Vaccine efficacy can vary from year to year, but that said, vaccination is still the best way to prevent the illness. Even if the strain isn’t a great match, having the shot can still decrease a person’s instance of hospitalization due to influenza.
How serious is the flu?
It varies, but each year between 20,000 and 50,000 people lose their life to influenza in the United States.
How can I prevent getting the flu?
The flu is generally transmitted when those carrying the virus cough or sneeze, which leaves droplets on hands or in the local environment. Then others come into contact with that surface and touch their eyes, nose or mouth. The best way to prevent getting the flu is to avoid close contact with anyone who is sick and to practice good personal hygiene. Cough into your elbow, wash your hands frequently, use a tissue to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and definitely get flu shot. If you have the flu, stay home to prevent the spread of the illness.
Is it too late for the flu shot to work?
If you haven’t gotten one, get one now. The flu vaccine takes 14 days to reach maximum effectiveness but as soon as you get it, the body can start building immunity. While the vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s still the best tool that we have. People don’t realize it can mitigate the severity of the flu. Even if you have to stay home on the couch for a few days, it’s better than spending time in the Intensive Care Unit because of respiratory failure.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The flu is characterized by a very rapid onset, accompanied by a fever and chills, severe body aches and headache. The common cold doesn’t typically result in a fever or body aches. If you’re experiencing these classic symptoms, stay home and call your primary care physician for treatment to slow the disease and influence recovery.
Temporary visitor restrictions.
Beginning January 5 and until further notice, all Parkview Health hospitals will implement the following restrictions on hospital visitors. These restrictions are designed to help protect patients, visitors and staff and are being implemented at the urging of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health and Parkview’s Infection Prevention team due to a rise in influenza activity in the region.
• All visitors presenting to a healthcare facility for evaluation and treatment who have a cough and/or fever will be provided with a mask and asked to wear the mask while in public areas in the facility, including waiting rooms.
• Visitors under 18 years of age will not be allowed to visit patients.
• Visitors of any age who have flu-like symptoms — such as fever, cough, chills or muscle aches – will not be allowed to visit patients.
• Visitors will be limited to two essential adults (at least 18 years of age) per patient – such as parents, spouse/domestic partner and spiritual counselors.
Protecting your family from influenza.
In addition to the temporary restrictions on visitors, the department also recommends that all residents do the following to minimize flu transmission:
• Get vaccinated. All residents 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against influenza, pneumonia (if recommended) and pertussis (if recommended) unless there are known allergies to these vaccines.
• Stay home if you are sick. All residents experiencing fever and muscle aches should stay home from school, work, shopping or other social gatherings until they have no fever for 24 hours without the benefit of fever reducing medications.
• Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and warm water whenever possible; if not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean hands.
• Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
• Wear a mask if needed. Patients with cough or fever seeking treatment at a healthcare facility should ask for a mask to wear.