Hospitals see increase in patients as flu season peaks

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Mahoning County hospitals are seeing more people come in with the flu and its symptoms as flu season begins to peak.

At St. Elizabeth Youngstown, patients are waiting for beds and the same is starting to happen in Boardman as well.

“Our infection prevention team has been closely monitoring influenza activity across Ohio,” said Regional Chief Nursing Officer Lori DeNiro.

Between the two hospitals, 25 patients have been admitted since Jan. 1, but health officials said that’s typical compared to what they usually see this time of year.

“The end of December through the middle of January is traditionally when we begin to see flu cases in the hospital, so the recent spike is right on time,” DeNiro said. “Thus far, the timing, volume and severity of the cases we’re treating is consistent with what we typically see at this point in the season.”

However, Mahoning County Health Commissioner Patricia Sweeney said they are “seeing an uptick earlier this year than last.”

Flu season statistics summary in Mahoning County (PDF)

The Centers for Disease Control said the flu can peak anywhere from December through March. Last year, it peaked in March throughout Mahoning County.

“It depends a lot on weather, it depends a lot on travel patterns, people, mixing patterns, those kinds of things,” Sweeney said.

Health departments throughout the tri-county area said their hospitals are also experiencing similar situations.

The Trumbull County Health Department said so far this year, there have been 12 admissions for influenza A.

The Warren City Health Department currently has three flu admissions.

The Columbiana County Health Department said four people have been hospitalized for the flu since October.

“You don’t want to go to the hospital unless you need to be at the hospital and for most people, treatment at home or treatment with an anti-viral that a physician could prescribe is probably the best course of action,” Sweeney said. “If you’re short of breath, if your fever had gone away and it’s come back and your symptoms have become more severe, that might mean you need some medical treatment.”

Northside and Trumbull Memorial hospitals are seeing some flu symptoms, but not a lot. Salem Regional Medical Center said it’s had five influenza cases so far this month, but only one person was admitted.

“This year so far, the most common strain of influenza circulating is influenza A H3N2,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, with the CDC.

Monday, Mercy Health announced four visitor restrictions to help prevent the flu from spreading.

“We want to limit exposure to the flu for those persons in our care who are at increased health risk, and to slow the spread of influenza,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Don Koenig.

All Mercy Health Youngstown Hospitals, including St. Elizabeth Youngstown, St. Elizabeth Boardman and St. Joseph Warren are implementing the following rules:

  1. If an individual does not feel well, he or she should not come to our hospitals to visit a loved one. We encourage them to call, text or send a card – their loved ones will understand. Individuals who come to the hospital when sick risk infecting their friend or family member, our healthcare staff and other patients.
  2. No visitors under 14 years of age will be permitted until the conclusion of the flu season. Children are exposed to many more germs in schools and daycare facilities and can easily infect others or catch the flu by visiting someone in the hospital who has influenza.
  3. We are suspending our practice of allowing one family member to stay overnight in the room with a hospital patient until the incidence of the flu subsides. Exceptions may be granted in cases of gravely ill or minor (under 18 years of age) patients.
  4. Waiting rooms or public areas cannot be used for overnight accommodations during this period. We ask that visitors give us the time to clean and disinfect waiting rooms and public visiting areas each evening, and enable patients to get the rest they need to recuperate.

People with symptoms can still go to the emergency room.

Mercy Health also provided a few simple daily habits that can help protect people from the flu and stop its spread:

  • Get your flu shot. The vaccination is a good match for this year’s most common flu, influenza A.
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, or cough/sneeze into a sleeve.
  • Stay home if you are sick. Your co-workers and friends will thank you.
  • For healthy individuals visiting the hospital, use a face mask to protect yourself, healthcare staff and patients. Mercy Health Youngstown has masks available at all hospital entrances.

It isn’t too late to get a flu shot. Hospitals still have plenty left but the mist vaccine is not available this year.

“They did some research with nasal mist and found it wasn’t as effective as the traditional flu vaccine immunizations,” Sweeney said.

So far, there have been 1,600 immunizations throughout Mahoning County.