Kentucky hospitals curb visits in flu fight
ASHLAND — Sick with the flu? You’ve got a lot of company.
The flu blanketed the U.S. again last week for the third straight week. Only Hawaii has been spared.
Last week, 1 in 15 doctor visits were for symptoms of the flu. That’s the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The government doesn’t track every flu case but comes up with estimates; one measure is how many people seek medical care for fever, cough, aches and other flu symptoms.
Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii, with 39 states reporting high traffic to doctors last week, up from 32.
At this rate, by the end of the season somewhere around 34 million Americans will have gotten sick from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
Due to the increase of flu cases and the recent announcement by the Department for Public Health that Kentucky’s flu activity is now an epidemic, King’s Daughters Medical Center and Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital have implemented temporary visitor restrictions.
The restrictions are aimed to help prevent the spread of the flu and include:
• Visitors may be issued masks or other protective clothing for use when visiting;
• No visitors under the age of 12;
• No visitors with any symptoms of flu-like illness (such as cough, sore throat, fever, chills, runny nose, body aches, nausea/vomiting or diarrhea);
• Only two visitors will be permitted in a patient’s room at one time; and
• Additional restrictions may be in place in special care units, such as pediatrics, critical care and oncology units.
Although West Virginia has not reached epidemic levels, flu is still widespread across the state. Shawn Jordan, spokesperson for Cabell Huntington Hospital, said they are not imposing restrictions on hospital visitors, but the hospital is focusing on providing education on what the flu is and how to prevent it, including hand-washing.
Hospital stays and deaths from the flu among the elderly nationwide so far haven’t been as high as in some other recent flu seasons. However, hospitalization rates for people 50 to 64 — baby boomers, mostly — have been unusually high, CDC officials said in the report, which covers the week ending Jan. 20.
This year’s flu shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, mostly the H3N2 flu virus. But exactly how well it is working won’t be known until next month. It’s the same main bug from last winter, when the flu season wasn’t so bad. It’s not clear why this season — with the same bug — is worse, some experts said.
Based on patterns from past seasons, it’s likely the flu season will start to wane soon, experts say. There are some places, like California, where the season already seems to be easing, CDC officials said.
The season usually peaks in February, but this season started early and took off in December.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but be a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. In a bad season, there are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu.
In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older. Last season, about 47 percent of Americans got vaccinated, according to CDC figures.
Symptoms of f lu include fever and respiratory illness symptoms such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.