2013-01-17 / Top News

Everyone is urged to help reduce spread of flu

By Terri Lang

(Editor’s Note: Some of the information in this story came from news releases and other news reports.)

North Dakota has experienced an early spike in influenza cases for the 2012-13 season. There have been 625 cases statewide since Sept. 1, and one person has died from the illness, according to the State Health Department.

Influenza can be a serious illness for some people. Complications of influenza and pneumonia contribute to the deaths of nearly 400 North Dakotans annually, most of whom are older than 64. However, a large number of influenza cases occur in children younger than 10, many of whom require hospitalization.

In North Dakota, 18 people have been hospitalized for influenza since this fall. The death occurred in the northeast part of the state, according to the health department. The department said it was a person who was over 65.

“This is much earlier than we typically see influenza in the state, but it is not an abnormal time of year to start our season,” Lindsey Vander- Busch, influenza surveillance coordinator for the Department of Health, said. “Since the influenza season may very well continue for weeks, it’s important that everyone take precautions to avoid spreading the flu, including getting a flu vaccine.”

Influenza activity in the state continues to increase. Outbreaks have been reported in long-term care and assisted living facilities across the state, which often is an indicator there are outbreaks of influenza occurring in those communities.

At the Strasburg Care Center, Administrator Brian Schumacher said they have had a higher incidence of coughs, colds and sniffles this year.

“We have had some residents positively tested for influenza, but as the Department of Health stated, not all residents and/or patients automatically get tested for influenza,” Schumacher said.

According to the Department of Health, the cases reported are only a small portion of the people who actually have influenza in the state.

“Some people have mild illnesses and never seek the care of a physician to get tested for influenza,” VanderBusch said, “Even people who visit their doctor may not actually be tested for influenza. If the person has all the symptoms of influenza, a doctor may diagnose influenza without running a test, and those cases are not reported to the health department.”

Schumacher said viral influenza requires rest and plenty of fluids, and that there is no magic pill.

To help decrease or prevent the seasonal flu’s effects, every year the Strasburg Care Center provides flu shots to all residents unless contraindicated or refused. Emmons County Public Health comes into the facility to provide flu shots to staff in the fall and all staff are encouraged to participate.

If the staff start seeing some flu symptoms in the facility, they try to isolate the resident(s) by keeping them in their rooms rather than out at activities or meals. They also limit activities and visitors in order to try to prevent the spread both in and out of the facility.

“As always, we preach good hand washing and good hygiene for all staff and residents,” Schumacher said.

Yet, no matter what one does, it does show up, and they care for the resident’s symptoms.

According to the State Health Department website, 8 flu cases were reported in Emmons County. In the nearby counties, McIntosh reported 12, Logan 20, Kidder 7 and Burleigh 226.

Bev Voller of the Emmons County Public Health Office said it is still not too late to get the flu vaccination. It takes about two weeks before it becomes effective and will provide protection for the rest of the projected flu season.

“It is never too late to receive the flu vaccine. Vaccine is still available at the Public Health Office for children and adults,” Voller said.

Everyone over age six months should get a flu vaccine, especially if they have diabetes, upper respiratory disease, heart disease, are pregnant or just want to be protected from influenza.

Emmons County Public Health has given 300 flu vaccinations this year to Emmons County students, the elderly, employees and to health care providers.

There are different A and B strains every season. The immunization given always includes two types ofAstrains and one B in the vaccination. Some of the strains going around are in the vaccine and some are not, and that is normal, according to Voller.

“The flu vaccination does not protect you from the intestinal flu, which we are seeing cases of this year. It only protects you against the upper respiratory flu,” Voller said.

The flu season usually hits in late January or early February. This year it is earlier than usual, and the number of infl uenza cases is significantly higher than it normally is this time of year.

At the Linton Hospital, Administrator Bob Black said they have recently experienced an increase in hospital admissions.

“Our patient admissions have been up since the last week in December,” Black said.

Black also said they have the flu vaccine available and encourages people to get vaccinated as it is still useful.

Linton Medical Center ordered 600 doses of the flu vaccine for the 2012-13 season. They base that on the number of vaccine administrations from the previous year. Between their three clinics (Linton, Hazelton and Herreid, S.D.) they have some doses left.

The Linton Medical Center has reported more positive cases of the influenza this year than in past years, but staff said the symptoms are not quite as severe. That is because the cases that were reported were InfluenzaAand the symptoms are less severe than those of Influenza B.

Director of the Linton and Hazelton Medical Clinics Stacy Schumacher said the most common symptoms during this flu season have been cough, fever and fatigue.

“In treating the symptoms, keeping hydrated is the most important and getting plenty of rest,” Schumacher said.

A caution from the staff at Linton Hospital and Clinics for those who are experiencing symptoms and visit their facilities is that they wear a mask to prevent the spread of the virus.

School officials have reported they have not noticed a significant increase in students coming down with the flu. They also noted that students took advantage of the flu vaccines offered to them from Public Health in the fall.

“We have not seen a big difference from last year in flu cases,” Hazelton Public SchoolAdministrativeAssistant Debbie Schmitcke said.

Joyce Scherr from the Zeeland Public School indicated the same.

“We have had a couple students now and then who have missed school, but not a great amount in any of the classes,” Scherr said.

At Strasburg Public School, Supt. Mary Larson said Strasburg students have not been hit too hard with the flu so far.

In Linton, “As far as absences go, this year seems to be about average,” Linton School Secretary Rhonda Dockter said.

Joy Dykema, teacher at Bakker School, said students seem to be feeling much better lately.

“Three out of five students did get sick this school year. It did seem that there were more illnesses this year than in years past,” Dykema said.

The Department of Health and local health care officials said common signs and symptoms of influenza include abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches, sore throat and cough.

To help prevent the spread of influenza, the Department of Health urges everyone to:

• Get a flu vaccine if you have not had one this season. It’s not too late since the season may last for weeks. Immunization is the best way to prevent influenza.

• Wash hands frequently with soap and water. Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent all diseases, including influenza.

• Use good respiratory manners. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing.

• Stay home from work, school or recreational activities when you’re ill. This will help prevent the spread of influenza to your friends, coworkers and family.

For more information about influenza activity in North Dakota, visit www.ndflu.com or the health department home page at www.ndhealth.gov.

The Emmons County Public Health Office can be reached at 701-254-4027.

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