Flu gets a grip on the Quiet Corner
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Jan. 7, 2013
The number of influenza cases has increased dramatically throughout the state in the last month, according to Day Kimball Hospital Vice President of Medical Affairs and Quality Dr. Douglas Waite. “We started seeing flu cases pick up in early December,” Waite said.
In mid-December the Centers for Disease Control considered Connecticut as having widespread outbreaks of Influenza, its highest classification of influenza activity. “We are in the midst of very high rates of influenza in our community,” said Waite, who is also the director of infectious diseases at DKH.
On Jan. 3, DKH released a statement about the restrictions and actions hospital staff were taking to ward off the spread of influenza. Persons with flu-like symptoms will not be allowed to visit patients at DKH. No one under the age of 18 will be allowed to visit patients anywhere in the hospital without permission from healthcare providers or for special circumstances. And all visitors have been asked to limit the time they spend in patients' rooms. These are temporary, precautionary measures meant to prevent the spread of the flu.
According to Linda Colangelo, communications coordinator for the Northeast District Department of Health, the best advice is time-tested. “History and multiple studies continue to confirm that getting an annual flu shot is the number-one way to protect yourself and others from getting the flu,” she said.
Waite said, “The influenza vaccine is probably one of the safest vaccines that we have. Serious side effects are extremely rare, and we know it’s aimed at preventing one of the most common viral infections in the world.”
High fevers, muscle aches and bad coughs put an average of 200,000 people in the hospital every year in the United States. On average, it kills between 36,000 and 40,000. “It is absolutely not just a bad cold. The virus can cause pneumonia, even in healthy people,” Waite said.
The Centers for Disease Control, which releases a weekly update on flu statistics in its FluView, reported 127.1 million doses of flu vaccine given by week ending Dec. 29. While some area pharmacies were out of the vaccine this past weekend, those shortages are expected to be temporary. According to the CDC website, manufacturers project 135 million doses to be produced this season.
“No vaccine is 100-percent effective,” admitted Waite. “Between 30 and 40 percent of vaccine-takers get influenza. But if you do, your illness is going to be far less severe,” he said. “We still have a good two to three months of being at risk. Even if you're healthy and you get it, being sick often results in lost work time or school time.”
Colangelo offers this advice for people who are sick: Stay home to prevent spread of the illness. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. Wash your hands. Get plenty of rest. “If you notice someone who is not covering their cough, don’t be bashful about politely asking them to cover their cough to avoid spreading their illness,” she said.
For those people caring for sick individuals, she recommends avoiding time spent face-to-face with them. When holding sick children, put their chins on your shoulder. Wash hands thoroughly. “Sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song two times or count slowly to 20 as you wash,” she recommended.