Metro-East News

Area hospitals hit hard by ‘one of the worst flu seasons in recent history’

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bianca Raleigh administers a patient’s shot March 23, 2015, at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bianca Raleigh administers a patient’s shot March 23, 2015, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The flu is hitting area hospitals hard, with at least one creating a new “manpower pool” to cope with the number of seriously ill patients.

Anderson Hospital has tested 1,179 positive flu swabs out of 4,848 collected. By comparison, in 2016 there were 49 positive swabs out of 351 collected. Anderson officials say this is shaping up to create “one of the worst flu seasons in recent history.”

Anderson now has limited bed capacity, and the emergency room is experiencing large surges of patients. The numbers continue to fluctuate as patients are discharged and admitted, according to chief nursing officer Lisa Klaustermeier, but “more proactive steps” have been required.

For example, any available staff member that can be utilized in other departments is now being put to work to assist in patient care or other departments — both clinical and nonclinical.

“Any employee who is deployed to another area to assist staff will receive an orientation/training from that department that will allow them to help in the most efficient and safe way possible within their skill set,” Klaustermeier said.

Memorial spokeswoman Anne Thomure said both Memorial locations are “very busy” and have continued visitor restrictions. The two Memorial locations have found 207 positive flu cases, compared to 29 at this time last year. In addition to the flu, a gastrointestinal bug is making the rounds and the severe cold has led to high volume in emergency departments.

At St. Elizabeth’s, the lab has been processing approximately 100 flu swabs per day since the last week of December and 35-50 percent have been positive, according to Chris Fournie, executive director of ancillary services. Last year at this time, the lab was processing approximately 15 swabs per day.

Meanwhile, MedExpress Urgent Care reported that their Illinois centers are experiencing the third-highest rates of influenzalike illness, with a 10-percent increase in the past two weeks.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported Thursday that Illinois is seeing “a large spike in cases and a large increase in intensive care admissions from the flu. Flu activity has been seen as widespread since early December, in the wake of a flu strain that is considered more contagious than most and only 10 percent prevented by this year’s flu vaccine.

Two people died of the flu in McLean County the week before Christmas — one a healthy 25-year-old. At least one child has died of the flu, according to IDPH. Litchfield schools had to close for a few days in early December when one in four children and nearly half the staff came down with the flu.

Nationally, the flu is reported as widespread in at least 35 states including Illinois and Missouri, and at least regionally spread in all others.

Medical officials remind people that:

▪  If one person needs to go to the emergency room, do not bring the entire family. Space is limited and you can expose more people to illness.

▪  Remember that visitor restrictions are in place at all area hospitals; please do not visit patients if you have any flu-like symptoms. People under age 18, pregnant women and anyone with a cough or sore throat is also asked not to visit.

▪  If you get sick, stay home from work and school. Get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids and avoid alcohol and tobacco.

▪  You can use over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms, but do not give aspirin to children or teenagers with flu-like symptoms, especially fever.

▪  Influenza is typically more serious in people over the age of 65, pregnant women, immune-compromised patients and young children, but it can become serious in anyone of any age or medical status.

▪  While people may use the phrase “stomach flu” to refer to nausea and vomiting, influenza tends to be a severe respiratory illness with fever that causes up to 700,000 hospitalizations and 56,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone, up to half a million deaths worldwide. This year’s strain appears to be H3N2, which is one of the more severe strains, according to medical officials.

▪  Vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu; even a partially effective vaccine can reduce the impact of the flu. Pregnant woman can also protect the infant both before and after birth by getting vaccinated.

▪  Antiviral treatment is most effective when started as soon as possible, but treatment initiated after 48 hours from illness onset can still be beneficial, according to the CDC. Given the severity of this year’s illness, the CDC sent an advisory to doctors last week recommending that antivirals be started as soon as possible, without even waiting a few hours for the flu test to come back, especially for those at greater risk.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald