Feeling fluish? You’re not alone
Patients are filling up emergency rooms around the state with flu-like symptoms.
The statistics show that Pennsylvania is entering the height of flu season. The severity of this year’s flu won’t be known until the number of cases peaks.
More than 5,000 new cases of the flu were reported during the first two weeks of 2017, according to the department of health.
“Flu is a big deal, it’s jamming up emergency rooms. And it’s not too late to get the vaccine,” Dr. Luther Rhodes of Lehigh Valley Health Network said.
The season officially runs from October-May. But the peak can occur anytime between December and March.
Carbon County has had 85 reported cases so far this flu season, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The highest number of cases regionally is in Berks County ,with 864, according to Dr. Jerry Jahre of St. Luke’s University Health Network. Northampton with 703 and Lehigh with 632 are close behind.
Monroe has 224 cases reported, with 158 in Schuylkill County.
You’re at particular risk if you’re over 50, or under 18.
“If you look at local statistics, while there are scattered cases in the fall, it’s really picked up steam the last two, three weeks and it’s somewhat accelerated,” Jahre said.
Rhodes said he already expects this year to produce more flu cases than past years, based on the rate that they are seeing flu infections.
Because of the large number of flu patients, hospitals take a lot of steps to prevent other patients in the hospital from getting sick. New tests make it easy to confirm a case of the flu. Flu patients are housed separately from other patients.
In the past, hospitals would divert patients to other hospitals in times of widespread flu infection, Rhodes said, but that ultimately doesn’t serve the public.
When should you go to the emergency room? You should know by day three of the illness whether it is getting better or getting worse.
Rhodes said that if by the third day, conditions aren’t improving, or you are experiencing shortness of breath, it’s time to seek treatment. Special attention needs to be given to people with chronic illnesses, who may get a more complicated case of the flu due to their conditions.
“The big red flag is shortness of breath – could be pneumonia, or heart failure if the flu is straining the heart, and both feel the same way,” Rhodes said.
It can be deadly. Fourteen people have died in Pennsylvania from flu-related illness so far this flu season. Rhodes said that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seem to indicate that most fatalities are people who have not been vaccinated.
Hospitals have an effective treatment for the flu. Tamiflu is shown to be effective against most flu strains, but it must be taken within 48 hours of symptoms showing, Rhodes said. Ultimately, it can help a patient recover about a day quicker.
And both doctors stressed that it is not too late to get a shot. Flu cases are seen as late as April.
Preventing the illness is easier than treating it. Getting a shot is not only about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting others who could see complications from the flu. Jahre said that while it’s not a guarantee, the vaccine does prevent the illness, and is even proven to make it milder if you do get the flu.
Rhodes said that there have been years when the effectiveness of the vaccine isn’t as strong.
“I’ve lived through a lot of seasons where you just get a sense, after hearing over and over from people who are sick who say they were vaccinated, that it just isn’t a good fit,” he said.
Bethlehem Immunization Coordinator Stephanie Oakley said cases of the flu are present in the city, especially at long-term care facilities, but the overall number of cases is low. She suspects it’s because the weather has been so warm, and warns residents that when the cold arrives and people are forced to remain indoors together, they should avoid close contact if they know they are ill.
Oakley also encourages residents to get shots. “Just because it’s February doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated.”
Call 610-865-7083 to make an appointment at the Bethlehem Health Bureau. You will need your insurance card to determine eligibility or $30 cash or check.