Two victims – one young and one old – have died from influenza in Delaware. A 2-month-old girl from New Castle County was first to die, Delaware’s Division of Public Health reported on Jan. 15.
On Jan. 16, state health officials reported a 79-year-old woman from Sussex County who had several underlying health conditions is the second flu-related death.
Those who are very young; those 65 and older; and people with underlying medical conditions are most susceptible to flu infection, say health officials.
At press time Jan. 17, more than 170 cases of influenza had been confirmed at Beebe Medical Center, and state public health officials say the number is still increasing locally and nationwide.
Delaware’s influenza activity is considered widespread and is higher than at this time in recent years, according to the Delaware Department of Public Health.
The state reports 538 confirmed cases of influenza as of Jan. 16, with children 4 years old and younger representing about 18 percent of reported cases; and about 16 percent of cases were in adults 65 and older.
The trend is part of a national increase in flu activity reported in 47 states. Nationwide, more than 3,700 lab-confirmed flu hospitalizations have been reported between Oct. 1, 2012, and Jan. 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Flu often peaks in late February or early March, but this year we are seeing an early surge,” said Delaware Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay.
Public Health officials encourage everyone 6 months and older who have not yet been vaccinated to do so immediately.
“It is not too late to get vaccinated and protect yourself and your family. This year’s flu vaccine is especially well matched to the strains of the flu in Delaware, and there is vaccine available,” Rattay said.
The state’s Public Health Preparedness section and hospitals are working together closely, sharing and updating information, Rattay said.
Beebe’s flu protocol
Although the number of reported flu cases continues to grow, Beebe Medical Center has not implemented its flu plan, and would do so only if it saw a big influx of flu-related patients said Sue Towers, hospital spokeswoman.
Beebe’s flu plan calls for designated areas to isolate and care for flu patients. Towers said the emergency department has taken steps to handle increased cases of patients with flu-like symptoms.
The hospital’s lab has been performing flu tests on out and inpatient samples. However, the state has not been testing those samples for confirmation, Towers said.
The medical center tested 863 patients from Dec. 1 through Jan. 10, finding 154 of them positive for influenza A, and eight positive for influenza B. As of Jan. 14 at press time, five patients were hospitalized for influenza.
Towers said 34 patients tested positive for flu of 128 patients seen at all Beebe facilities from Jan. 10-14. The numbers were the latest available at press time.
At the Lewes campus, telephone operators and greeters have been instructed to screen visitors who exhibit cold or flu-like symptoms such as a cough or runny nose.
Surgical masks are available and are being used by hospital visitors for the safety of patients, staff, and other visitors, Towers said Jan. 14.
“Patient safety is of highest importance at Beebe Medical Center,” said Paul Minnick, medical center executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Our team is prepared in the event of a serious influx of patients due to the flu outbreak. In the meantime, we always follow infection-control practices,” Minnich said.
He said the Beebe’s clinical personnel has been reminded of written, flu plan protocols, including the use of surgical masks in flu-patient rooms and the initiation of droplet precautions and cleaning procedures to assure infection control.
In preparation for this year’s flu season, Bayhealth officials said its facilities have taken a more aggressive approach to prevent viral transmission.
Bayhealth’s Kent General and Milford Memorial hospitals are adapting its facilities to meet the community’s increased need for care. The hospitals have made more inpatient beds available and have increasing staffing, said Pam Marecki, Bayhealth spokeswoman.
Physicians, employees, volunteers and contractors have been asked to get vaccinated or wear a surgical mask in patient areas.
More than 95 percent of Bayhealth’s employees have received this year’s vaccine.
Eight flu patients have been admitted to Kent General and four had been admitted to Milford, as of Jan. 14, Marecki said. The numbers were the latest available at press time.
Dr. Gary Siegelman, Bayhealth’s chief medical officer, said the best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated.
“Vaccines are still available and are effective against this year’s strain of flu. Physician offices, clinics and many drug stores have ample supplies of the flu vaccine,” Siegelman said.
Complicating the upsurge in flu cases, the community is also experiencing an increase in Norovirus – commonly known as the “stomach bug.” Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, and the virus is easily transmitted from person to person. Hospital officials said anyone can contract norovirus – there’s no vaccine to prevent it – and it isn’t related to influenza. Marecki said the hospital has seen a few cases of patients who have the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Infection, (CDC) said no substantive changes have been made in this flu season’s immunization protocol.
Flu vaccines are designed to protect against three influenza viruses that CDC research has indicated would be most common this season – Influenza A, type H1N1; influenza A, type H3N2; and influenza B.
Every year, influenza vaccines are produced using each type virus.
The CDC has found those who do get the flu might benefit from antiviral drugs that can make the illness milder, help patients feel better faster, and also prevent serious flu-related complications, such as pneumonia.
Things you can do to prevent infection
The Department of Public Health has expanded vaccination availability at public health clinics. For additional information about influenza and where to go for vaccination, call 800-282-8672 or go to www.flu.delaware.gov.
• Wash hands with soap frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after coughing, sneezing or touching your face.
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to 6 feet.
• Stay home when sick and do not return to school or work until 24 hours after a fever.
• Before entering a patient’s room, visitors should get approval from nursing.
• Only immediate family members should visit.
• No one under 18 should visit.