HONESDALE - In face of an aggressive flu season, Wayne Memorial Hospital is asking all visitors with flu or flu-like symptoms to visit on another day or "visit by phone," a recommendation from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Over the three months of October, November and December 2012, the hospital confirmed 24 cases of Influenza A. Between October of 2011 and March 2012—six months—the hospital confirmed only three cases of the same disease. In short: eight times more cases this season in half the time.
"We are seeing a significant increase in flu cases, and we are taking precautionary measures to protect our patients, our staff, and our visitors," said James Pettinato, RN, director of Patient Care Services. Pettinato reported that the hospital’s Emergency Department is seeing approximately 10 more patients every day with flu-like symptoms. "And, in the hospital itself, among our admitted patients, we have five to 10 patients daily with complications related to flu-like symptoms."
Wayne Memorial’s Laboratory Services Manager John Romano reports the hospital is also seeing an upswing in Influenza B cases—"Last year we had three confirmed cases of Type B, all in March, but this year, four months earlier, we saw four confirmed cases of Influenza B."
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the disease has been reported in all counties, and flu-related Emergency Department visits remain elevated. The state’s website reports that "487 flu-related hospitalizations were reporting during the first week of January, up from 244 reported the week before." Close to 1000 hospitalizations have been reported to date this season.
The flu season usually begins around October and peaks in February—but every year is different. The state Health Department said the flu season will not peak until February this year, but health officials are concerned that more cases are cropping up much earlier than usual.
Children not restricted yet
In 2009-2010, during the H1N1 flu season, Wayne Memorial restricted visitors to anyone over 18.
"We are not prohibiting visits by children just yet," said Pettinato, "but the community should be aware that all of our units may at any time restrict visitors based on their own patient population or nursing situation." Pettinato pointed out that the Intensive Care Unit, Maternity, Pediatrics and the Emergency Department have visitor restrictions in general, and no changes have been imposed in those departments.
The flu or "influenza" is transmitted via air droplets from an ill person to other people generally by coughing and sneezing. It can be picked up within a few feet. Wayne Memorial is also mandating that all staff who have not been vaccinated wear masks "within six feet of patients" in patient-care areas.
It is not too late to get a flu vaccine, according to Kay Daley, RN, Infection Control Nurse at Wayne Memorial Hospital. The flu vaccine—administered primarily as an inoculation but it can be given via a nasal mist—can be acquired at your primary care doctor’s office, the local office of the state Health Department, or at many local drugstore chains.
"There is still ample supply of the vaccine," said Daley, noting that "even if you have been vaccinated and get the flu, you are likely to have less severe symptoms."
However, she also added that it takes one to two weeks for the body’s immune system to fully benefit from the vaccine. "Getting the vaccine may mean the difference between ‘recovery at home,’ Daley said, "or hospitalization."