Flu Season 2018 Update

The spread of influenza, or the flu, varies. Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has indicated that the flu activity for our state is widespread now.

Data shows that the number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases have increased in at least half the regions of the state.

That is why Penn Highlands Healthcare is hoping you will take precautions to avoid the flu as best as you can. And if you do get the flu, do your best to overcome it and keep everyone else around you healthy.
So far, according to statistics, Elk County and Jefferson County have seen fewer than 100 cases each than Clearfield County which is pushing the 200 mark. However, not everyone gets tested for the flu, so statistics really show those who come forward for medical help and get tested.

“The flu is here,” Liza Richner, RN, BSN, Infection Prevention and Control nurse at Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Brookville, said. “Since Dec. 30, Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Brookville have seen an increase in the number of patients with influenza A.”

“At Penn Highlands Clearfield, we are seeing an increase number of flu patients in the Emergency Department with a few requiring admission,” Jennifer Sunseri, BSN, RN, director of Infection Prevention, Employee Health and Wound Clinic at Penn Highlands Clearfield, said.

“At Penn Highlands Elk, our numbers are not abnormally high and outpatient number are lower than last year,” Rhonda Chilson, director of Quality and Infection Control of Penn Highlands Elk, said. And they are hoping that it stays that way.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most frequently identified virus type reported by public health laboratories in the United States currently is influenza A. It has been identified as the cause of 90 percent of flu cases. Influenza A has the following symptoms:

  • Body aches;
  • Fever;
  • Headaches;
  • Sore throat;
  • Cough;
  • Exhaustion;
  • Minor congestion;
  • Possible vomiting and diarrhea, but mostly in children.

The first thing Penn Highlands Healthcare recommends is to get a flu shot. “The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated to match circulating flu viruses,” Richner said. “Flu vaccines protect against the three to four viruses that research suggests will be most common.”
The vaccine this year for 2017-2018 contain agents to fight the:

  • A/Michigan/45/2015m, H1N1, pdm09-like virus
  • A/Hong Kong/4801/2014, H3N2-like virus
  • B/Brisbane/60/2008-like, B/Victoria lineage, virus

If the vaccine has a fourth component, it will include the same three viruses above, plus an additional B virus called B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus, B/Yamagata lineage.

Penn Highlands Healthcare agrees with the CDC’s recommendation that everyone age six months and older should get a flu shot. “The flu vaccine can reduce flu illnesses and prevent flu-related hospitalizations for all ages, but for young people, older adults and those who have other health issues, it can be life-saving,” Richner said.

It takes about two weeks after a vaccination to really start protecting us, so getting a flu shot now would be helpful later. In the meantime, wash your hands regularly or use sanitizer often. Keep your distance from those who are ill. Be mindful of touching objects – grocery store carts, items in public places, restroom door handles – and then touching your face.

If you do get the flu, the best advice is to stay home and rest. You can treat flu symptoms with and without medication. Over-the-counter medications may relieve some symptoms. “Remember, antibiotics do not help fight viruses,” Sunseri said. “Only if your flu has led you to get a bacterial infection – such as a lung, ear or sinus infection – you may get an antibiotic.”

Drink plenty of clear fluids to stay hydrated. If you have a fever, put a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead. Use a humidifier to help breathe better. Gargle with warm salt-water for a sore throat, and cover yourself with warm blankets for the chills.

Be sure to wash your hands regularly or use sanitizer. Always cover your sneezes and coughs, and throw away all tissues in the trash. Stay away from others even at home, and try to use disposable utensils, cups and plates to keep your germs away from others.

“Please don’t spread your illness at work, school, church, the mall, the grocery store or anywhere,” Chilson said. “You can infect others one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after symptoms appear. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be contagious for a longer period, according to the CDC.”

Wait until you have been fever free for 24 hours - without taking fever-reducing medicines - to return to work or school or to attend any public function. Remember, no medication makes you less contagious.

There will be those who will need to seek medical advice from their healthcare providers. According to the state Department of Health, persons who are at higher risk of complications from influenza include those over 65 years old or those under age 2, pregnant women, persons with a chronic lung disease such as asthma, heart disease, renal, metabolic, hematologic and neurologic diseases, immunosuppression or morbid obesity. American Indians or Alaska Natives and residents of chronic care facilities are also at higher risk, the CDC said.

It is the recommendation of the Department of Health that all hospitalized, severely ill and high-risk patients with suspected or laboratory confirmed influenza should be treated with antiviral medications. Its benefit is greatest when antiviral treatment is administered as early as possible after illness onset.

For others, we ask you to not go to the Emergency Department with the flu unless you have signs of concern. They can include:

  • Fast or troubled breathing, or shortness of breath;
  • Bluish or gray skin color;
  • Not drinking enough liquids, especially in children or older adults;
  • Severe or persistent vomiting;
  • Not waking up or interacting, especially in children.

Also, during this time, Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Brookville ask that those with flu-like symptoms not visit. Also, at PH DuBois, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has visitation restrictions from Oct. 1 to April 30 due to flu and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, season.

Penn Highlands Clearfield is not enforcing visitor restrictions, yet, but all isolation patient areas have signs that instruct visitors to report to the nurse’s station before entering the room. The nurses will provide instruction on hand washing and masking if necessary.

Restriction of visitors has not been necessary at Penn Highlands Elk so far, but this, too, can change.