Flu activity starts tapering off
WILLMAR -- The good news: After an aggressive start to the season, influenza activity has declined noticeably this past month. The not-so-good news: Plenty of other bugs are continuing to circulate and make people sick. At Affiliated Community Me...
WILLMAR - The good news: After an aggressive start to the season, influenza activity has declined noticeably this past month.
The not-so-good news: Plenty of other bugs are continuing to circulate and make people sick.
At Affiliated Community Medical Centers, a surveillance site for the Minnesota Department of Health, testing has shown the presence of strep and pertussis, along with a few lingering cases of influenza.
“We’re seeing a fair amount of RSV right now. We’re also seeing some norovirus. Respiratory viruses are still making the rounds,” said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center. “Urgent care is still seeing a fair amount of patients. It’s been busy for them.”
According to the state Health Department’s weekly update, flu activity across Minnesota is now local rather than regional or widespread. Flu-related hospitalizations for the week ending Feb. 14 were down to eight, compared to 20 the week before.
But to date there have been 2,588 flu-related hospital admissions across the state, well ahead of last year.
Flu hit early and hard at Rice Memorial Hospital, where 49 patients were admitted in December with influenza, said Wendy Ulferts, chief nursing officer. “I don’t know when we’ve seen a number that high,” she said.
To minimize the spread of illness to vulnerable patients, the hospital has asked visitors to stay home if they can.
“Some people, we know, can’t stay away because their loved one has a critical illness,” Ulferts said. “If they are not feeling well, we have masks at all the entrances. We have hand hygiene at the entrance to every room. Infection control is a big priority for all of us.”
Flu-related admissions to Rice have been tapering off, with 12 in January and just two in February so far, she said. The hospital will continue to restrict visitors until the worst of the flu season is over, however.
Testing through ACMC’s surveillance program currently shows a prevalence of type B strains, which tend to be less severe than A strains and are more likely to hit younger people. The current flu season brought what Ulferts called “the perfect storm” - a sharp and early peak in flu cases combined with a vaccine that wasn’t a good match to circulating strains of the virus.
“This year we saw more breakthrough,” Debruycker agreed.
Health providers hope the vaccine’s reduced effectiveness this year doesn’t discourage people from getting vaccinated in the future. Even when it fails to fully protect against influenza, those who have been vaccinated tend to be less sick, DeBruycker said. “It softens the illness a bit. It shortens the duration. The vaccine hasn’t been perfect but we still encourage people to do it.”
Frequent hand washing, covering coughs and staying home when sick also can go a long way toward reducing the spread of illness - not only during the flu season but throughout the year, she and Ulferts said.
“If you’re not feeling well, that’s a good time to remove yourself from other people. What could be minimal for you may be devastating to someone else,” DeBruycker said. “Hand washing is something that is a year-round activity.”