Summit County sees spike in flu cases around the holidays
January 1, 2015
Flu cases typically spike statewide during the holidays, and Summit County has been no exception in an influenza season experts predicted would be worse than usual.
Mary Henrikson, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center vice president of patient care services, said the county's hospital saw 11 diagnosed cases of flu from Dec. 6 to 20. Then from Dec. 20 to 27 the center saw 15 diagnosed cases.
In other words, the hospital saw more diagnoses in one week than in the previous two weeks combined.
Most of the people with flu were not admitted for treatment; just two, both elderly and with other risk factors, were hospitalized, she said.
Across Colorado, according to the state health department, 847 cases of flu have been reported in 33 counties since the flu season began in September. In the week that ended Dec. 20, the last week for which state data was available, 239 cases were reported, while 98 cases were reported the previous week.
Summit County Public Health Department nurse Sara Lopez suspects the real number of cases is higher.
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"Communicable disease is pretty much always under-reported because not everybody's getting tested and not everybody's going in," she said.
VACCINE AVAILABLE IN SUMMIT COUNTY
Shortages of antiviral medication produced to lessen flu symptoms have been reported in Denver, and Henrikson said she heard about one skier who was told to go to Edwards for medicine.
Lopez said though Summit's pharmacies and clinics vary in their stock of the medication, they all have some available.
"Everybody seems to have something, and it's really dependent on the manufacturer," she said. "Certainly these pharmacies are ordering, but their orders are not being filled or only partially filled at times."
Lopez noted that the Denver area is doing more flu testing with federal funding, which could be increasing numbers there.
Nationally, flu has grown more widespread in the Midwest and Southeast, according to the Centers for Disease and Control, and 15 children have died from the virus this flu season.
On Dec. 24, St. Anthony and all Centura hospitals put a restriction in place on patient visitations by children under 12, Henrikson said, because kids are most likely to have the virus. The restriction will stay in place, with some exceptions, as long as the CDC deems the virus an epidemic.
The rise in cases locally and around the country likely happened for two reasons, she said.
First, the dominant strain of influenza A this season, H3N2, mutated enough that this year's vaccine doesn't effectively prevent those vaccinated from contracting that strain. With the exception of one influenza B case, all of the diagnosed cases seen at the hospital were influenza A.
Experts say the vaccine still protects against other flu strains and lessens the severity of symptoms for anyone who does end up fighting the virus.
The second reason is friends and families gathering for the holidays are more likely to spread the virus.
"They travel and do things that are very social, so it's very easy to trade germs," she said.
FIGHTING THE FLU
The CDC recommends a three-pronged approach to fighting the flu: get vaccinated, take actions to prevent spreading the virus and seek antiviral medication if flu is suspected.
The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective and is available at pharmacies and local health care providers. The county public health office offers it by appointment and during walk-in hours Monday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.
Henrikson said people can avoid contracting the flu by avoiding sick people and eating, exercising and sleeping well.
"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," she said, "and don't touch your face."
Most people hospitalized for flu are 65 or older or younger than 5, so those groups and people in frequent contact with them should take extra precautions.
Henrikson encouraged people to get tested if they suspect the flu.
During the same week around Christmas when the hospital saw 15 people with the flu, it tested 73 people for influenza. A large majority, or 78 percent, tested negative and likely had similar symptoms of the flu caused by an upper-respiratory infection, Henrikson said.
Those who get the flu should rest and stay home until 24 hours after their fever has subsided, Lopez said.