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Flu season arrives, hits Tri-state hard

January 10, 2018 GMT

BULLHEAD CITY — It’s not news to most people that the flu is going around right now. But this year’s outbreak is more concerning to health professionals than usual for a variety of reasons.

Western Arizona Regional Medical Center noted that wait times are longer than normal for patients to see care providers in the emergency room and its walk-in care locations.

“This year the flu is stronger than it has been in recent years,” said Sarah Mangum, WARMC’s marketing director.

This year’s flu also is affecting more people than the year before. WARMC’s ER staff saw 579 patients with flu-like symptoms and 135 of those patients were confirmed as positive flu cases during December. Only 17 ER flu cases were confirmed during December 2016. And the first week this year, the hospital’s ER received 277 visitors with flu-like symptoms and 81 cases confirmed as flu. Only 31 confirmed cases of the flu came into the hospital’s ER through the entire month of January 2017. Valley View did not return phone calls seeking its numbers.

WARMC staff is asking that people younger than age 18 not visit patients at the hospital, to reduce patients’ exposure to the virus, Mangum said.

Flu can be spread one to three days before symptoms develop, and up to five days after becoming ill. Children may remain contagious for seven days or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also recommends people seek emergency medical care only if they are at high risk for serious complications or their symptoms are severe.

Mangum also noted that following CDC recommendations is among ways the hospital “strives to keep our community members as healthy as possible.”

The CDC and WARMC staff also advised that obtaining a flu shot — and as soon as possible — is important.

“Getting the flu vaccine may not prevent the flu but it can reduce the severity and length of time you are ill,” said Linda Russel, WARMC’s infection preventionist.

Children younger than 5 years, adults 65 or older, people with chronic disease such as diabetes and women who are pregnant are considered to be at higher risk to suffer flu-related complications and need to seek care.

Russel said that while a negative flu test does not rule out flu, “if you are symptomatic the CDC recommends you take Tamiflu.”

According to the Mohave County Department of Public Health, there were more than 170 cases of the flu reported as of Dec. 23, a 45 percent increase over last year and a flu-season start that the county described as “steady, robust (and) about a month earlier than most seasons.”

County health officials also cautioned that the number was an underestimate. Flu isn’t a health problem that care providers are required to report because many people don’t obtain medical care for it and opt to ride it out at home with over-the-counter remedies.

The dominant strain around Mohave County has been A(H3), which causes more severe illness than other flu strains but is less effectively remedied by the vaccine. Healthcare professionals still consider the flu shot the best way to ease symptoms and length of illness no matter what strain someone contracts.

Last year, this was the peak part of the flu season for Mohave County. But the county doesn’t expect this level of activity to “drop off anytime in the immediate future,” its report also stated.

That’s why the county also recommends that people get vaccinated against the flu, stay home if ill and practice good respiratory “hygiene and etiquette.”

Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water, as well as covering one’s mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing — by using a tissue or crook of the arm as opposed to bare hands — can help slow transmission of the flu.

Other ways to stay healthy include keeping one’s hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth, staying away from people who are sick and staying home if you’re sick yourself.

The guide for when it’s safe for others to be around you is when you’re free of symptoms and fever (without taking medications) for at least 24 hours.

The county was compiling an update of flu statistics early this week, including what had happened through Dec. 30.