Achoo! It’s the flu

Influenza cases mild here; still important to get flu shots

IMAGES PROVIDED A clinical lab employee at UPMC Susquehanna tests a sample for influenza.

LOCK HAVEN –It’s been sweeping the nation.

People have been coughing, sneezing and feeling down right icky.

This year’s strain of influenza began earlier than usual and is “expected to last for months” according to the Association of Mature American Citizens.

But the real question is, has this new strain hit this area as hard as others?

In Clinton County 59 total influenza cases were reported through labratory testing between Oct. 1, 2018 and Jan. 20 by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

At two local hospitals — UPMC Susquahanna Lock Haven and Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital — data indicates local residents haven’t been hit with the virus too badly so far.

Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital’s lab director reported 101 influenza tests were run in December and only eight came back positive. Another 238 tests were run in January and 49 came back positive, showing that the virus’s impact did grow over the past month.

“We had just one inpatient admission for influenza last month,” Jersey Shore’s Acute Care Director Chelsea Reichard said.

“UPMC Susquehanna has not seen the influx of inpatients associated with this year’s widespread influenza,” Ashley Fedroff, RN, Infection Preventionist at UMPC Susquhanna Lock Haven said.

“The emergency departments systemwide are seeing many patients with respiratory illness which has flu-like symptoms and are following the current treatment recommendations for antivirals,” Fedroff said.

“The system UPMC has set up also provides treatment plans for those who did test positive for influenza but are otherwise healthy to allow them to be treated and heal from home,” she added.

Although the outlook seems positive both Fedroff and Terry Mantle, RN, who is involved with Infection and Control at Jersey Shore Hospital, encourages those who haven’t gotten their vaccine yet to do so.

“It’s not too late to get your influenza vaccine,” Mantle said. “The best way to prevent the spread of influenza is to get your influenza vaccine, avoid close contact with those who are sick, wash your hands often, cover your cough and keep your hands away from your face.”

“There is no vaccine available to fight all the types of viruses that can make you sick,” Fedroff said, “but you can protect yourself from influenza by getting vaccinated. It does not and cannot give you the flu. It is never to late be vaccineted.”

Another important tip, Fedroff said, is to quit smoking.

“Nicotine decreases the ability of the tiny hairs in our nose and elsewhere to filter air and clear infection, causing colds to stick around longer in smokers,” she explained.

Those at high risk for the influenza virus are children less than age five, adults 65 and older, pregnant women and residents in long term care facilities.

Following the above listed steps can help ensure good health through the flu season, Fedroff said.

Sometimes these measures may not be enough and a person could find themselves with a mild form of the illness. If that is the case, being hospitalized or needing antiviral drugs is not the first step in taking care of the illness unless you are in a high risk group or very sick or worried about your illness, she continued.

Most people with the flu have mild illness, Fedroff said, and in most cases when a person shows flu symptoms they should just stay home and avoid contact with other people, unless they need medical care.

By resting, staying hydrated, using over-the-counter symptom relievers such as Tylenol for fevers and body aches; decongestants and cough suppressants like dextromethorphan (use only if over the age of 6 unless directed by your doctor); using humidifiers and vaporizers to relieve symptoms; covering your face with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and then washing your hands and avoiding direct contact with faucet handles and door knobs, are all ways to make recovering quicker.

“Most colds go away on their own without any complications or needing antibiotics,” Fedroff said. “Typically viral infections peak by seven days of symptoms and resolve by 14 days.”

If this is not the case for someone, they should call their doctor, she said.

For those high risk patients, especially seniors, the best medicine is getting a flu shot to help prevent the influenza.

“And it’s still not too late,” said Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens.

“There’s still time and, as the saying goes, better late than never,” he said.

“It could save lives,” he said. “Seniors, especially those 65 years or age or older, are at greater risk of complications from influenza because their immune systems grow weaker with age.”

Even though out area hasn’t seen the flue in epidemic portions like many other regions across the country, it’s still important to get a flu shot.