Flu season in full swing

Mary Pickels
| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 7:02 p.m.

With the flu season in full swing, medical practitioners are recommending what seems to be a unanimous prescription: get a flu shot.

“It's not a scientific study, but I've asked everyone I've seen who has been diagnosed with influenza if they had gotten a flu shot. Not one had gotten it,” said Dr. Jeffrey Frye, emergency medicine specialist with the Uniontown Hospital.

Lab-positive flu cases in Fayette County, Oct. 2 through Jan. 5, 2013, numbered 96, according to state Health Department statistics updated on Tuesday.

Westmoreland County cases were reported at 507.

Flu cases have been identified in every county, with more than 11,300 cases reported through Jan. 5.

It's believed to be only a fraction of the actual number of flu cases, as the state reports only those confirmed by a laboratory.

Health Department spokesperson Holli Senior has said that an ample supply of flu vaccine, “well matched” to the strain that is circulating, is available.

Health officials noted the flu season runs through April, typically peaking in January or February.

Area hospital emergency rooms and urgent-care centers already are seeing an uptick in cases.

While daily average patient count at Uniontown Hospital's emergency room typically numbers around 150, in recent weeks that number has edged closer to 200.

“That's not all influenza cases,” Frye said on Tuesday.

But the flu and related complications — asthma, bronchitis and dehydration — are the primary contributors to the increase, he said.

“It's hitting all age groups. So far today I've seen a 9-year-old, a 50-year-old and a 90-year-old,” all with flu diagnoses, Frye said.

Treatment with an anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu must start within 48 hours, Frye said, and can shorten the course of the flu by a day or so.

Staying hydrated and away from work or school until one's fever has broken are priorities, he said.

Frye said hospital staff are encouraged to use anti-bacterial wipes on commonly shared equipment and devices, a practice he continues at home when family members are ill.

Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 8, Excela Health hospitals logged 354 confirmed in-patient and out-patient flu cases, spokeswoman Robin Jennings said on Tuesday.

Excela Frick reported 115 cases, with 16 of those being admissions.

“We draw from a lot of areas that don't have consistent preventive medicine,” said Dr. Bill Jenkins, director of Frick's emergency department, citing one reason why the incidence of flu cases at the Mt. Pleasant facility is comparable to those elsewhere in the Excela Health system.

Susan Spinuzza, physician assistant at the Uniontown MedExpress Urgent Care, said the number of flu patients has nearly doubled since Christmas.

“We have lots of people with coughs, fever, body aches, chills. ... That being- hit-by-a-truck-feeling is a red flag. They almost always test positive for flu,” she said.

Flu is spread primarily through inhaling droplets through others' coughing, sneezing and talking, Spinuzza said.

“You can reduce the chance of flu by about 30 percent by washing your hands often and using anti-bacterial gels,” she said.

Patients who suffer from secondary complications, such as ear aches, pain with breathing, sinus infections should seek medical attention, Spinuzza said.

But for typical flu systems lasting beyond 48 hours, “Grandma's wisdom” may be the best type of therapy, Spinuzza said.

“Rest, hydration, chicken soup, Tylenol for body aches and ride it out,” she said.

Highlands Hospital spokeswoman Vicki Meier said last week that the Connellsville facility had seen an influx of patients with the flu.

She could not be reached for further comment on Tuesday.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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