Don’t stop washing your hands.
But Reid Hospital officials say this winter’s flu season seems to have peaked in early January and is on the decline, according to detailed statistics tracked all year by the health system.
Dr. Thomas Huth, vice president of medical affairs at Reid, said influenza-like illness is measured through the emergency department, with inpatient admissions and in medical practices. He said the numbers hit their highest point around Jan. 4 and have been declining since, nearly reaching the average for cases in other parts of the year. “This is good news, but we should never let our guard down,” Huth said. “Hand-washing and alcohol-based sanitizers are still the best basic weapons to prevent the spread of flu and other contagious diseases.”
Huth said continued cold weather and students being back in school after the holidays could still mean the numbers could change. He said thousands of flu shots have been administered over the last few months by Reid – and other community entities such as physician offices and county health departments – and said vaccination is always a good way to help avoid illness and complications from the flu.
For example, Reid employees received more than 1,000 shots, Reid physician practices administered more than 4000, Reid team family members received 800, and area companies had about 1,600 employees receive vaccines through Reid. “These are great statistics that may help explain why our winter flu season has been pretty typical,” Huth said.
Though he said 30 flu deaths have been reported so far in Indiana, he has not seen any deaths here. Huth believes heightened awareness and vigorous vaccination efforts could be among the reasons.
Huth said he monitors flu and flu-like illness all year and noted the following about this year’s season:
· The average age of patient presenting with flu was 24.
· Only seven percent of flu patients required admission to the hospital.
· More than half the cases of flu involved Richmond residents, with Connersville having the next highest number
Huth said signage asking people to avoid visiting when ill, as well as reschedule any routine appointments, may have also helped keep down the numbers of people getting the flu.
“It’s always a good idea for anyone who is sick to stay away from others until they recover,” he said.
Flu vaccines are still in order for those who have not had them, it’s always important to continue to wash hands and use alcohol-based cleansers, and see your doctor or visit your health department or urgent care center if you suffer from flu-like symptoms.
It is best to utilize an emergency department only as a last resort, he said. Reid also offers a new, free service where people can call a nurse for medical advice if they have questions about flu or other issues. “Reid Nurse Connect” can be reached 24/7 at 1-855-4REIDRN (1-855-473-4376).
The number of flu cases started jumping up right before Christmas in data he monitors all year, Dr. Huth said.
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs). Flu symptoms often appear suddenly and include a fever, cough and/or sore throat, runny nose and headaches or body aches. Unlike a stomach virus, the flu typically does not cause symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.
The best time to treat flu symptoms is within 72 hours after the initial onset of symptoms.
Flu vaccines are usually available at doctors’ offices, urgent care centers, pharmacies and county health departments. The vaccine is often covered by insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid. The Centers for Disease Control recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone over six months of age, especially for the very young, elderly and those who are caregivers. Early fall is the best time to get immunized, but it’s never too late.