This year’s flu season is starting off nasty, and officials with both Northern Hospital and the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center have a message: Get a flu shot.
According to Northern Hospital Director of Infection Prevention Kitty Horton, the local hospital is experiencing an increase in the number of cases being treated in outpatient clinics, the Emergency Room and the hospital.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity is increasing nationwide,” Horton said.
And officials with the Health and Nutrition Center agree.
According to Assistant Director of Nursing Jessica Jessup, the center is also seeing an uptick in the number of patients coming in with flu symptoms.
“Just like the rest of the nation, we’re also seeing an increase over what we normally see this time of the year,” she said.
Jessup said that so far about 10 adult patients have come into the center with the flu, while the number of children being treated in the pediatric clinic is also on the rise.
“We’ve been seeing about 15 or more children presenting with the flu per day for the past three weeks,” she said.
And those numbers are only expecting to rise, according to Thomas Williams, spokesman for the Health and Nutrition Center.
“To say this is an above average flu season, that’s something that everyone needs to hang their hat on,” he said. “And with this time of the year and everyone congregating for the holidays, we’re going to be seeing more incidents of the flu after the holidays.”
Jessup said the Center isn’t testing every patient that shows up with symptoms to determine whether it’s the actual flu.
“If they present with symptoms, we’re treating it like it’s the flu,” she said.
But the good news is the flu shots available this year are often successful at preventing the disease
“This year’s vaccine is covering about 88 percent of the flu cases,” Jessup said. “It seems like they got it right this year.”
Just because a person gets the shot doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods, though.
“Once you receive a shot doesn’t mean you have instant immunity,” Jessup said. “It takes a couple of weeks for the immunity to kick in, so the sooner people get the shot the better their chances will be they won’t get the flu.”
“But it’s a person’s number-one defense, and if you get it it will be a much milder case of the flu,” Williams added.
Horton said that with such prevalence of the flu so early in the season, the hospital is taking steps to protect their vulnerable patients.
“It is strongly advised that you do not visit patients in the hospital or the skilled nursing facility at the current time due to the increase in patients with influenza,” she said. “(And) because of the increased number of patients who are seeking care in our emergency department, it is recommended that patients who are not experiencing an emergency, but are seeking treatment for influenza-like illnesses to please visit an urgent care center or their primary care physician’s office.”
She offered other advice including:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• If you have to sneeze, sneeze into the bend of your arm or a tissue rather than into your hands.
• If you’re sick, stay home if possible except to receive medical care.
• If you’re seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms at the hospital, wear a mask while waiting for treatment. Masks are available at the entrances to the hospital.
• And once again, if you haven’t received your flu vaccine this year, get one as soon as possible.
The Health and Nutrition Center is offering a limited number of free flu vaccines on a first-come, first-served basis.
Members of the public can come to the center, located in the County Government Building in Dobson, on Monday through Friday, between 8:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., or from 1 to 4:30 p.m., Williams said.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.