Local hospitals ask flu patients to stay away

CDC says nation hits epidemic status.

Local hospitals have restricted visits and are asking people with flu symptoms to stay away as epidemic levels of the virus affect the region.

“If they’re not very young or old, and don’t have other respiratory issues, we’re encouraging people to contact their primary care physician and not go to the emergency room,” Bryan Bucklew of the Greater Dayton Hospital Association said Wednesday. “Hospitals are at very full capacity right now, and staff is getting sick as well.”

The number of influenza-related hospitalizations in Ohio has increased dramatically in the past month, according to numbers released Dec. 20 by the Ohio Department of Health. Nearly 2,000 people were hospitalized for the flu in the third week of December, as compared to just 533 people hospitalized the same week last year.

Updated numbers are set to be released by the department Friday.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that the flu has reached the epidemic threshold nationally and is widespread in 36 states. Four pediatric flu-related deaths have been confirmed in Ohio, including an infant less than six months old in Cincinnati. Adult influenza-associated deaths are not required to be reported to the state health department.

The virus is not showing any signs of letting up in around Dayton, and hospitals and urgent care centers have been swamped for the past two months, according to Mark Williams, the chief medical officer at Miami Valley Hospital.

Williams said he is not aware of any deaths from the flu in Dayton.

Bucklew said several factors have contributed to the high levels of flu this year, including the reduced effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccination and the early onset of flu season, hitting people around the holidays when they are traveling and spending time with friends and family.

The sickness has infected staff at hospitals, threatening to decrease staffing levels at a time when the hospitals are at capacity.

“Since the flu shot is less effective this year, all the staff have received the flu shot, but they’re still getting sick as well,” Bucklew said. “We’re facing staffing challenges, just trying to make sure we have enough healthy staff.”

During the week ending Dec. 27, 1,099 cases were reported in the 10-county area including Mongtomery County, according to Bill Wharton, public information officer for Public Health of Dayton and Montgomery County.

But that report does not represent the true number of flu cases, Wharton said.

“The flu is not a disease that everyone, or even many people, report. So when you see numbers associated with the flu, it’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “But it does give us an index that tells us we’re having a very, very significant increase in flu cases. We have a lot of sick people out there in our community.”

This year’s flu shot included four strains of the virus, one of which was not a strong enough match to adequately prevent the strain, Wharton said.

This year’s virus is also stronger than it has been previous years, and it is causing a higher and longer-lasting fever in many people affected by the virus.

“We’re encouraging anyone who is sick to stay at home so they don’t go to work and spread it around further. Minimize anything that would tend to spread the flu,” Wharton said. “Be cognizant of the fact that there’s so much flu out there right now.”

Among Ohio’s confirmed hospitalizations this year, 177 have been children age 4 or younger, and 929 have been adults age 65 or older.

Area hospitals imposed restrictions on visitation last week due to abnormally high rates of hospitalization. The restrictions include: No visitation by anyone who is ill with any respiratory symptoms including coughing or fever, and no visitation by anyone under age 14, even if they have received the seasonal flu vaccine.

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