Influenza has been hitting the headlines recently. Both in Iowa and nationwide, influenza is considered to be widespread, with infection rates moderate to high in most areas. The numbers of both hospitalizations and patients seeking clinical treatment for flu-like symptoms are three times higher than a typical year. This is of concern, as we have not yet reached the standard peak of flu season.
Several hospitals near Jasper County are choosing to limit visitors to protect the patient population; guests experiencing cough, sore throat or fever are asked not to come to those facilities unless they are themselves seeking medical care. Children younger than 18 are not being allowed to visit anywhere in those hospitals, unless they are a sibling going to the obstetrics unit and are symptom-free.
At this time, Skiff Medical Center is not electing to restrict visitation in this manner, as they are observing decreasing flu numbers locally. However, they do ask that everyone — employees, physicians, patients and guests — exercise caution through appropriate respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene. Also, when possible, delay coming to the hospital (or wear a mask) if they are feeling ill. Patients suspected of influenza will be placed in isolation until the presence of flu can be verified or ruled out. Skiff has established a flu committee that is meeting on a weekly basis to assess the situation as the flu season progresses.
This committee wishes to remind that the influenza vaccine is highly beneficial in preventing serious illness (hospitalizations and death), but does not necessarily prevent all symptoms of the flu, especially if a person is elderly, has a suppressed immune system and/or has not been vaccinated in previous years. However, if you have received vaccination from the flu, you are significantly less likely to experience any or most flu symptoms. Those who have not yet received flu immunization may find doing so somewhat difficult. At this time, many area clinics and pharmacies are out of flu vaccine or have limited supplies. Ask your primary health-care provider what your options are if you haven’t received the flu shot or flu mist.
Another reminder: Both norovirus and influenza activity are ongoing across the state. Norovirus is the major cause of gastrointestinal illness and outbreaks in Iowa, and is often mistakenly referred to as “stomach flu.” While these two illnesses are completely different and caused by unrelated viruses, people often expect the influenza vaccine to prevent norovirus (e.g., “I had the flu shot but got the stomach flu anyway”). The “stomach flu” and true influenza have no connection; however, both can be limited by washing hands with soap and water and reducing your contact with people who are ill. According to the CDC, the use of hand sanitizer is effective in the fight against influenza, but not norovirus. GI illness is best kept at bay with traditional soap and water.
Finally, patients are asked to stay home if they believe they have influenza, rather than come to the Emergency Department, if they simply have the typical symptoms of flu, including body aches, fever and cough. Going to the ER puts health-care workers and other patients at risk. A trip to the ER is indicated, though, if you or a loved one are experiencing the following:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen sudden dizziness confusion lack of alertness; difficulty waking fever with a rash If you have questions, contact your doctor or Jasper County Public Health at (641) 792-5086.