Press-Republican

January 14, 2013

North Country flu cases on the rise

Annual infection hitting unusually hard in North Country

BY LOHR MCKINSTRY, JEFF MEYERS AND SUSAN TOBIAS, Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Influenza continues to hit New York and the North Country hard, with the state Department of Health reporting widespread flu activity.

During the week ending Jan. 5, the department said laboratory-confirmed influenza was reported in all 57 counties plus New York City, and there were 4,059 total reports. Scores of cases have been confirmed in the North Country.

HUDSON HEADWATERS

Dr. Dan Larson, a family physician with Hudson Headwaters Health Network, said they’re experiencing many more flu cases than average at their network of health centers in the North Country.

“It’s way more than normal. To me in numbers it’s the most we’ve seen in many years, and the severity is the worst in many years. It’s also much earlier than previous years.”

The outbreak started in early December, Larson said. Flu usually doesn’t impact his health centers until February or March.

He said some patients had cases that required hospitalization, and all of those had not gotten flu shots this season.

“Everyone I admitted had not been immunized. Many were not smokers. Smokers get more significant respiratory issues.”

Larson said it may be that children returned to schools earlier this month after Christmas vacation and some brought with them influenza infections they’d contracted while they were off.

“We had to work harder last weekend.”

Hudson Headwaters operates health centers in Moriah, Ticonderoga, Champlain and numerous other locations in the North Country.

ESSEX COUNTY

Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers said influenza activity is widespread in Essex County.

“We’re stocking up on flu vaccine. Some of this may be due to not as many people getting immunized as in previous years.”

She said schools are required by law to notify them of severe outbreaks, but no Essex County school has had to do that so far, and no schools have had to close because of a flu infection.

“Hospitals are reporting higher than average visits for complaints of respiratory and fever symptoms, and pharmacies are reporting higher than average sales of influenza-related medications.”

Beers said the laboratory-confirmed cases are 95 percent influenza A strain and 5 percent influenze B. Both strains are covered by the new flu vaccine, she said.

“It is not too late to get the flu vaccine.  It is recommended that everyone receive the flu vaccine to protect themselves and others. Contact your health-care provider, County Public Health or your pharmacy to make an appointment to get you and your family vaccinated.”

Everyday preventive actions to protect against the spread of flu and other germs include washing hands often; sneezing in your sleeve; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; eating nutritious foods; drinking water; and getting plenty of sleep.

Symptoms of the flu typically occur quickly, are hard hitting, and include fever higher than 100 degrees, headache, chills, aches and dry cough, Beers said.

For more information about the flu or to see the Essex County Public Health Clinic schedule, go to: www.co.essex.ny.us/PublicHealth.

INTER-LAKES HEALTH

At Inter-Lakes Health’s Moses-Ludington Hospital in Ticonderoga, Chief Executive Officer William E. Holmes said their Infection Control Department has been following the flu situation.

Holmes said that, for the flu season of 2012-2013, there have been 19 positive flu cases so far at Moses-Ludington, with four admissions to the hospital due to severity. Eight of the cases were this month, he said.

“All of last year only had two positive flu cases,” he said.

Elizabethtown Community Hospital Director of Community Relations Jane Hooper said they have had 12 positive flu tests so far this season.

“That is a small percentage of what we know, anecdotally, to be present in the communities. Certainly, not everyone comes to the hospital when they have the flu. Most people simply stay at home to rest and recuperate.”

There is still time to get a flu shot, said Dr. Rob DeMuro, medical director at Elizabethtown Community Hospital.

He said it typically takes 10 to 14 days for the vaccine to become fully effective but that’s not a problem, since flu typically peaks in February or March, although this year the country is seeing some earlier patterns.

“The flu can be incredibly serious,” said DeMuro. “Infants, the elderly and people with certain diseases or weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable.”

 He said antiviral medication can help lessen the duration and severity of the illness, but these prescriptions must be taken at the outset of symptoms, typically within the first 48 hours.

“Anyone experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pain, bluish-colored nails or lips, confusion, or extremely high fever should seek immediate medical care,” DeMuro said.

He said normal flu symptoms include: high fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and body aches.

“Many people have just stomach symptoms and say they have the ‘stomach flu,’ but in reality that is not the influenza virus we are talking about,” DeMuro said. “Influenza virus is a respiratory virus, so you should have some cough.”

CVPH MEDICAL CENTER

Christine Blake, spokesperson for CVPH Medical Center, said the hospital remains busy as the daily count of patients continues to be high.

“From Dec. 1 to Jan. 10 of 2013, we had 134 lab positives for flu,” Blake said. “Of those, 27 were admitted through the Emergency Room.”

On Thursday, the hospital was at full capacity, with eight patients using overflow beds in the hospital’s Pediatric Unit.

“We have seen an increase in flu-related admissions, but not all of these admissions are related to flu,” Blake said.

The increased admissions have put a lot of stress on coverage, but Blake said the needs of patients are continually being met.

“The staff here have been phenomenal about handling the extra patients,” she said. “They’ve taken on the challenge, but we are at our best when facing these challenges.”

Laurie Williams, coordinator of Health Education for the Clinton County Health Department, said her office continues to monitor the flu situation county wide but noted that no specific areas seem to be more impacted than others.

“Once the flu is in a community, public health looks at it as being here,” she said. “Whether it’s impacting one percent of the population or 10 percent, we still count it as being in the community and continue monitoring for our on-going assessment.”

The Health Department makes regular contact with area schools, who have noted higher numbers of absences since students returned to school from the holiday vacation, but no districts have reported anything of major concern, Williams noted.

Health officials continue to stress the need for prevention.

SARNAC LAKE ‘OASIS’

At Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, Infectious Preventionist Mim Millar, RN, said her region has only seen one or two confirmed cases of influenza admitted to the hospital, which also covers Tupper Lake and Lake Placid areas. 

“Admittedly this is an oasis in all this (flu cases) but we did a lot of education in 2009 and 2010 in that flu pandemic and I am hoping this (low cases confirmed) is a result of that education,” she said. “I want to emphasize that anybody who hasn’t had a flu shot should get one now and people should wash their hands, wash their hands, wash their hands. It cannot be said enough.”

MALONE

There has been a significant increase in flu cases at Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone.

“We have had numerous admissions through the Emergency Department and our clinics,” said Sharon Martin, RN, who is in charge of Infection Prevention Control in Malone. “But we do have plenty of vaccine in stock for anyone who hasn’t had a flu shot.” 

PHARMACIES

In Clinton County, Walmart stopped giving flu shots at the end of November but has been plenty busy referring shot seekers to other venues.

“It seems like every 10 minutes someone is in here looking for a flu shot,” said Pharmacist Sharon Schenkel. “I have been calling around to the other pharmacies I know that are giving the shot and sending people to those locations. This morning (Sunday) I called Walgreens and they said they had about 100 doses left. I think I’ve sent at least 40 or 50 people there today.”

At Rite Aid outlets in Plattsburgh, vaccine supplies are temporarily exhausted. However, more doses are expected by mid week.

 Walgreens in Malone had about 16 vaccines doses available late in the day Sunday. Workers there were not sure if they would be getting another supply.