Flu season kicks up; YRMC restricts visitors
The flu season is in full swing, leading Yuma Regional Medical Center to restrict patient visitation to prevent unnecessary exposure to the virus.
People younger than 18 are now not allowed in the hospital's patient care or waiting areas. Exceptions will be made for parents younger than 18 who are visiting or accompanying their children who are receiving care.
Dr. Carl Myers, chief medical officer at YRMC, said visitor restrictions are a tough call, but children tend to be more likely than adults to be carriers of the flu virus without showing symptoms, and for longer periods of time. Children also typically contract more viruses than adults do.
The hospital is also asking adults to refrain from visiting if they feel like they might have the flu or if they have the following symptoms:
• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
• Runny or stuffy nose
Hospital officials say YRMC is busy right now, which is typical for the winter visitor and flu season. Because of the high patient volume, the newly developed third floor of the tower, with its 36 additional patient beds, opened Thursday, one day ahead of schedule.
Myers said the thought around the hospital is that YRMC isn't getting hit too hard by influenza, but “we have seen a slight bump up in patients admitted with flu-like symptoms.”
The Yuma County Health Department reports 22 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in the area from the official start of the flu season on Oct. 1 through Jan. 9 (by comparison, Myers said, no cases were confirmed here last year). The health department said current indications are not alarming, but it's still prepared for a busy season.
Flu cases saw a major spike last week across Arizona. The Arizona Department of Health Services said about 1,000 of the nearly 2,200 flu cases statewide were reported at that time. Flu is in 14 of Arizona's 15 counties.
Health officials say flu season started early this winter, state and nationwide, and not all sickened people get tested, so many more flu cases go unreported.
Officials have forecast a potentially bad flu season in the U.S. after last year's unusually mild one. In addition, this year's flu includes a strain that tends to make people sicker. On Wednesday, Boston declared a public health emergency.
The latest national numbers, however, hint that the flu season may already have peaked in some spots.
Flu was “widespread” in 47 states last week, up from 41 the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. Many cases may be mild. The only states without widespread flu are California, Mississippi and Hawaii. The hardest hit states fell to 24 from 29, with large numbers of people getting treated for flu-like illness.
The flu normally doesn't blanket the country until late January or February, although Arizona typically sees most of its flu cases in February or March.
It's not too late to get a flu shot, which is recommended for everybody age 6 months or older and is especially for pregnant women, people over 65, people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma and chronic lung disease, and people who work or live with people who may be more susceptible to flu's effects.
Vaccinations are available locally at the Yuma County Health District, 2200 W. 28th St. in Yuma, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. (except 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m.) on Mondays, Tuesdays, the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month and Thursdays. Visit www.yumacountyaz.gov/flu for information on costs and flu shot clinics in Wellton, Dateland and San Luis.
Officials estimate that this year's vaccination is about 60 percent effective, which is in line with what's been seen in other years.
The traditional time to get vaccinated is in the fall so that people are protected before influenza starts spreading.
Indeed, manufacturers already have shipped nearly 130 million doses to doctors' offices, drugstores and wholesalers nationwide, out of the 135 million doses they had planned to make for this year's flu season. At least 112 million have been used so far.
Some key things to know about the flu season:
THE SITUATION: The annual flu season hit about a month early this year, and illness is now widespread in 47 states. Many cases are caused by a flu strain that tends to make people sicker. But so far experts say it’s too early to know whether this will end up being a bad season. Maybe not: There are signs the flu may have already peaked in a few states, though it’s too early to tell for sure, health officials say.
THE VACCINE: This season’s vaccine is well matched to the circulating strains, and there’s still some available. It is 62 percent effective, according to government study results released Friday, which is pretty good for a flu vaccine. Health officials are urging people to get vaccinated; it’s recommended for everyone 6 months or older.
THE DEFENSE: Besides getting a flu shot, wash hands with soap and warm, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Keep away from sick people.
THE TREATMENT: Most people will get a mild case and can help themselves and protect others by staying home and resting. But people with severe symptoms should see a doctor. They may be given antiviral drugs or other medications to ease symptoms.
COLD OR FLU?: Influenza is not the only bug making people sick. The cold virus and a nasty stomach virus are also going around. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference, but cold symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. Flu usually involves fever, along with chills, headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and tiredness. Symptoms can come on rapidly, within three to six hours.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.