By MELINDA WILLIAMS
LewisGale Hospital-Pulaski has started to see its first cases of flu this season – just in time to throw a wrench in the holidays.
Christine Ludwig, LGHP’s infection prevention specialist, said the hospital started screening patients for flu in October, but it wasn’t until this past week that tests started registering positive for the virus. She said the most prevalent strain is Influenza A.
The “A” strain of the virus affects each person differently, but most who contract it have fever, chills, coughing, aches, a stuffy nose and fatigue, according to Ludwig. Children may also have nausea and vomiting.
Those who have the flu are urged to stay away from work or other gatherings for at least seven days, she said, because the virus is contagious for at least that long.
Since the flu shot protects against two strains of Influenza A and one strain of Influenza B, Ludwig stressed the importance of being vaccinated; especially for those in the high risk population, such as the elderly or people with weakened immune systems. The shot increases ones ability to fight off the virus and even if someone has already been exposed to the flu, she noted, the vaccine can help lessen the risk and severity of the virus.
At the hospital, patients who are able to receive the shot are being vaccinated when they arrive if they haven’t already been.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is anticipating this winter’s flu season to be “significantly worse” than last year’s, according to Ludwig. She explained that the historical trend is for the virus to run in three-year cycles whereby it is mild one year, increases in prevalence the second year and then has a big outbreak the third year.
This would be the third year in a cycle, she added.
With people traveling to and from different regions due to the holidays, Ludwig said it isn’t too late to get the vaccine. The vaccination is not recommended for people with some medical conditions, so be sure to understand these limits before receiving a shot.
The best way to avoid spreading or catching the flu, Ludwig said, is to use good hand washing practices and “use common sense. Don’t go to places with a lot of people if you’re sick” especially upcoming holiday gatherings.
Those who think they may be coming down with the virus should see their doctor for flu anti-viral medications, preferably within the first 72 hours. “The sooner you get on them the better,” she said, noting the medications can shorten the duration of the illness.
According to Virginia Department of Health, cases of norovirus, or “the stomach flu,” also are showing up in Virginia. Norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping.
Although the virus doesn’t have a particular season, Ludwig said it tends to show an increase in winter months.
As with flu, the best way to keep it from spreading is staying away from work or gatherings until 24 hours have passed without a fever, proper hand washing, cleaning with bleach and avoid preparing food for others while contagious.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Cynthia C. Romero said an increase in norovirus outbreaks is expected in the next few weeks.
Last season VDH investigated 184 norovirus outbreaks statewide.
Although norovirus infection can cause a great deal of discomfort, it usually goes away on its own without requiring hospital care. Replacing lost fluids is key to preventing dehydration, especially in children and the elderly. Persons who become severely dehydrated should seek medical care.