2018-02-01 / News

Flu Season Is Worsening; Hospital Departments Are Closed to Visitors

Vaccines Still Available and Encouraged To Prevent Spread
By Stephanie Fortino


Straits Area Pharmacy pharmacist Leah Heffernan (right) gives a flu shot to Mackinac Straits Health System Dietary Manager Mike McGuire of Cheboygan Thursday, January 25. Flu shots are still available at the pharmacy and are encouraged for those who haven’t already received one. Influenza cases are increasing rapidly, and with about three months to go in flu season, there are already more positive cases at the hospital than last year. Straits Area Pharmacy pharmacist Leah Heffernan (right) gives a flu shot to Mackinac Straits Health System Dietary Manager Mike McGuire of Cheboygan Thursday, January 25. Flu shots are still available at the pharmacy and are encouraged for those who haven’t already received one. Influenza cases are increasing rapidly, and with about three months to go in flu season, there are already more positive cases at the hospital than last year. Infectious diseases like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are making their way through the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Cases of the flu are increasing rapidly, said Nancy Nelson, an infection preventionist at Mackinac Straits Health System. As of Thursday, January 25, the hospital reported 30 confirmed cases of influenza. Through Sunday, January 28, 16 more positive cases of influenza were seen at the walkin clinic and emergency room, not including positive cases at the Rural Health Clinic. Two patients had to be hospitalized because their symptoms were so severe.

“We’re really seeing it right now,” Mrs. Nelson said Monday afternoon, January 29.

While this flu season is serious, according to the LMAS District Health Department, it is not extreme in the Upper Peninsula, and is comparable to the 2009-2010 flu season.

To prevent the spread of influenza and other illnesses, the hospital closed the Oncology Department to visitors Friday and the Acute Care Unit on the second floor of the St. Ignace hospital was closed Monday to anyone under the age of 18. The Kids Camp at Evergreen Living Center has also been cancelled until further notice to reduce exposure of the residents in long-term care.

With about three months left to go in the 2017-2018 flu season, there already are more cases of positive Influenza A and B at Mackinac Straits Health System than the entire 2016-2017 season, which saw 35 confirmed cases from October 2016 to April 2017. The hospital is likely to see more than 40 flu cases in January, Mrs. Nelson said, compared to only three cases in January 2017.

Influenza A seems to be more prevalent this year. Symptoms for Influenza B are generally worse.

Mackinac Straits Health System is also seeing positive cases at its clinics in Mackinaw City and Cheboygan.

Often people wait to get their shots until later because they want them to last longer, Mrs. Nelson said, but that means people are more likely to get the flu.

People can, and still should, get their flu shots, she said. Shots are available at the Straits Area Pharmacy at the hospital in St. Ignace. Flu shots are also available by ap- pointment at LMAS Health Department offices.

LMAS District Health Department Health Officer Nick Derusha agrees that people should still get vaccinated.

“Even now, as we move into February, the best way to protect yourself from getting the flu is to get your flu shot, if you have not had one yet this season,” Mr. Derusha said.

Those most at risk for contracting influenza are young children and older people. In fact, throughout the country, most hospitalizations for influenza are patients 65 years old or older, Mrs. Nelson said, noting the age group is “really at risk” for contracting the flu and having severe symptoms.

Flu symptoms include cough, fever, congestion, body aches, and chills. If people have a cough along with body chills, a low-grade fever, and body aches, they should visit a walk-in clinic to be tested for the flu. If the flu is detected early enough, an antiviral medication can be prescribed that limits how long patients have symptoms, which can last up to two weeks. People can be contagious two days before they have symptoms.

“It’s very contagious,” Mrs. Nelson said. “It’s spread by droplets, so every time you cough, those droplets land on hands, they land on surfaces, and it can be spread.”

Some ways to limit the spread of infectious illnesses like the flu are to wash your hands frequently, cover coughs, and wear a mask while in public if you have the flu. The LMAS District Health Department also recommends those who are ill should avoid large crowds. Those who have contracted the flu should stay home until they haven’t had a fever without fever-reducing medication for 24 hours.

Masks and hand sanitizers are available at every entrance at Mackinac Straits Health System. People working at the registration desk screen patients and ask those with flu-like symptoms to wear masks while waiting.

Cases of RSV, a viral respiratory infection that affects infants and young children, are also on the rise this season.

“In babies, it can be very serious,” Mrs. Nelson said. “They can have a severe cough, respiratory distress [difficulty breathing], congestion, runny nose, low-grade fever, and a sore throat. It inflames the airways for little babies, and it can be very severe.”

So far this season, there have been four cases of RSV, compared to five confirmed cases in the 2016-2017 season. The weekend of Saturday, January 20, two infants with confirmed cases of RSV at Mackinac Straits had to be sent to another facility in Petoskey to be hospitalized, Mrs. Nelson told The St. Ignace News. That illness is also very contagious.

Parents should be on the lookout for symptoms of RSV, which include short, shallow, and rapid breathing, coughing, difficult eating, irritability, and unusual tiredness or lethargy. If parents notice that their children are struggling to breathe or eat, they should visit a walk-in clinic or see their family doctor, Mrs. Nelson said.

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