Respiratory flu cases outnumber gastrointestinal type

By William K. Alcorn


The early arrival of the 2012-13 influenza season has people lining up to get the vaccine and at hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

Also, health officials say there is a higher number of the more dangerous respiratory flu cases as compared with the flulike gastrointestinal virus.

To avoid spreading the flu, local hospitals continue to urge people who are sick to not visit patients in the hospital until the flu season subsides.

Some 30 people were at a flu-shot clinic conducted Tuesday by the Mahoning County District Board of Health, most of them school students, said Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner, who expected more adults to arrive after work.

The county health department is conducting flu-shot clinics from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Thursday at its offices at 50 Westchester Drive in Austintown.

It is not too late to get a flu shot, Sweeney said, noting that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting the incidence of flu will remain high through mid-February, when it usually peaks. The vaccine, which she said is an excellent match for the viruses circulating, takes effect in about two weeks.

The health commissioner said that a lot of the flulike symptoms circulating are not an intestinal virus but the more dangerous respiratory influenza. “It is a dangerous illness,” she said.

Sweeney said the flu vaccine is the best protection from catching and spreading the virus, along with frequent hand washing, sneezing and coughing into a tissue or the elbow and staying home if sick.

Patient visitation guidelines and restrictions were enacted earlier in the week by Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron and Akron Children’s Boardman campus, Humility of Mary Health Partners facilities and Salem Community Hospital.

The area is experiencing a significant increase in influenza type A and B cases, which are causing fever, respiratory symptoms and diarrhea. Though most people recover from these symptoms in a few days, hospitalized patients who become infected with these illnesses may develop significant complications, said Debbie Pietrzak, assistant vice president for marketing and planning at Salem Community.

Pietrzak said the hospital has not restricted visitation officially but is urging people to avoid visiting and possibly spreading the illness to patients.

Jan Divelbiss, director of emergency nursing at St. Elizabeth Boardman Health Center and St. Elizabeth Emergency and Diagnostic Center in Austintown, said there are increased patient volumes across HMHP, both in the hospitals and the free-standing emergency centers.

“Part of the problem is every emergency department is overwhelmed. St. Elizabeth Health Center won’t go on diversion because there’s no place else for people to go. Each hospital in this community is truly overwhelmed,” said Brenda Luchs, nurse manager of the emergency department at St. Elizabeth Health Center.

“We are seeing a higher number of respiratory cases as compared to gastrointestinal. Those people who already have chronic health issues are being hit harder by the flu, and it’s causing them to have complications. Patients are being transferred to the hospital from nursing homes,” Luchs said.

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