With much of the nation facing a much milder winter than expected, the number of flu cases has drastically dropped as compared to the same time last year.
Traditionally, February and March are the biggest months for the widespread transmission of the flu and a time local health care officials begin putting measures in place to prevent the spread of the disease.
According to Wanda Holden, Infection Control Coordinator for Sampson Regional Medical Center, in the past two weeks, the hospital has had nine positive flu tests each week come through the hospital’s lab, as compared to the zero to four cases in the weeks prior.
“February and March are traditionally the biggest months for widespread flu transmission and many hospitals and medical provider offices often put measures in place to reduce those chances,” Kathie Johnson, director of nursing at the Sampson County Health Department, said. “The state has seen a slight increase in the number of flu cases in the past couple of weeks and again, this is the usual scenario”
This time last year, local health officials were seeing the number of Influenza cases skyrocketing, resulting in a limited number of vaccinations and treatment made readily available to local residents.
“We have not seen the epidemic proportions as we have some years in the past due to this year’s flu vaccine being a good match for the strains of flu that are circulating this year,” Johnson added. “I think the vaccine was a good match for the strain this year.”
At Sampson Regional, between September 2015, the beginning of what is known as flu season, through Feb. 27 of this year, there have a total of 54 positive flu tests done in the hospital’s lab. When compared to the same time span last year, the numbers have drastically dropped.
From October 2014 through Feb. 27, 2015, there were a total of 567 positive flu tests at the hospital’s lab.
Following last year’s outbreak of the common virus, pharmacists at local drug stores and the hospital reported a significant shortage of the prescription Tamiflu, a drug used to treat the flu virus in those ages two weeks and older. That hasn’t been a problem this flu season, as the number of flu cases is lower.
Drug stores were having a problem replenishing their supply of the drug when warehouse suppliers were running out. The increased demand of the drug came on the heels of an outbreak of more cases of the flue. The vaccine given last year was not beneficial because a mutated version of the flu was making its rounds and hitting people across the state, but CDC officials feel confident that this year’s vaccination has proved to be more beneficial.
“One of the most important services our pharmacy can offer during this flu season is help protecting patients against the seasonal flu,” Amanda Bryan, pharmacist at Clinton Drug Company, said. “It is important to be prepared during this severe flu season, and we are dedicated to supporting our community by providing patients with these essential vaccinations and educating them on additional measures they can take to help reduce their risk of getting the flu.”
Bryan encourages those who are experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting, to contact a local pharmacy or physician immediately.
There are suggestions for helping contain the virus and keep it from spreading to others. According to Holden, one of the best ways to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine. Even though flu season is well into a new year, officials say it isn’t too late to get the vaccination, and strongly feel the number of cases could begin to spike in the coming weeks.
“Flu is relatively low, but it’s starting to increase and there is still time to get vaccinated,” Lynette Brammer, an epidemiologist in the influenza division of the CDC said.
Brammer said the milder weather may be one of the reasons the spike of the virus is getting a late start.
In preparing for the outbreak and spread of the virus, some hospital are issuing restrictions on visitors, but SRMC hasn’t followed yet. Officials still ask visitors to follow good health hygiene when visiting.
According to Holden, tips for helping prevent the spread of the virus include:
• Hand and respiratory hygiene is the next best step to preventing the spread of flu. Hand washing helps stop the spread of germs. It’s recommended that you wash often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
• It’s also important to remember to disinfect surfaces and objects that may come in contact with flu germs. In the home and workplace, disinfect phones, keyboards, door handles, and other commonly touched surfaces. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you are sick, try to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. It’s also recommended that people wear a face mask to reduce spreading or catching germs.
• If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose, or direct your cough or sneeze into your elbow. This way, you are less likely to touch a surface and spread germs.
“Hygiene stations are placed throughout the hospital for visitors to use,” Kristy Bland, marketing and community relations coordinator with SRMC, said. “We encourage visitors to clean their hands when entering and leaving the hospital either by washing with warm soap and water or by using the hand sanitizing stations. If you feel that you have flu-like symptoms it is best not to visit patients to reduce the risk of spreading the flu or other illnesses.”
According to Bland, the hospital is actively monitoring the situation and will implement appropriate measures if the trend continues. This will include visitor restrictions, for the safety and well-being of patients, visitors and staff.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.