Metro-East News

Flu outbreak has killed 16 more children in past week

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

Sixteen more children have died of the flu in the past week, for a total of 53 children who have died in this year’s flu outbreaks.

The CDC’s latest report, covering data up through Jan. 27, shows more than 20,000 positive tests and 51 influenza hospitalizations per 100,000 residents nationally in the last week. Influenza activity is considered widespread in 48 states and Puerto Rico, with some improvement in Oregon and Hawaii.

But the season isn’t over yet. More than 7 percent of patients seeing a health care provider in the last week had the flu, which is more than three times the baseline of 2.2 percent, according to the CDC.

“Our latest tracking data indicate that flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation and increasing overall,” acting CDC director Dr. Anne Schuchat told CNN. “This year, the cumulative rate of hospitalizations is the highest since we’ve been tracking in this way, which goes back to 2010.”

The total of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases is now over 126,000, which does not include people who did not see a doctor when they became sick. Some antiviral drugs are running in short supply, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it’s not because there isn’t enough of the drug.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said there is actually a shortage of IV saline bags used to hydrate patients, and strongly encouraged health care providers to stock up on the antiviral drugs used to fight the flu.

Metro-east hospitals are limiting visitors and some are experiencing bed shortages with the number of influenza patients. In early December, an influenza outbreak caused Litchfield schools to close for two days as 23 percent of the students were out sick.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can be mild or severe enough to require hospitalization, and can cause death. In decades past, influenza killed millions; in recent years, tens of thousands still are hospitalized or can die from the flu. Not to be confused with “stomach flu,” which is generally over in 24 to 48 hours, influenza’s symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, headache and fatigue.

Medical professionals continue to urge all residents to get a flu shot, even at this point in the season. While it is not 100 percent effective at preventing the flu, it can reduce the severity of the infection and prevent further spread.

And no, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Among the misconceptions about the influenza vaccine, that one is number one: the fear of catching the flu from the shot, which contains a dead virus or no virus at all and is incapable of infecting the patient.

People are also recommended to avoid crowds, wash hands often, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, clean and disinfect surfaces, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

If infected, stay home and rest, drink fluids and avoid contact with others, especially the elderly and infants. Infection can continue up to 24 hours after the fever breaks without the help of a fever-reducing medication.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald