Kansas and Oklahoma are two of 26 states currently reporting high levels of influenza-like illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With cases of influenza nearing epidemic numbers across most of the nation, health care providers are bracing for what could be one of the hardest-hitting flu seasons in recent years.
“We really didn’t start getting hit until the very end of December (2017),” said Tami Eiselt, South Central Kansas Medical Center’s infection control nurse.
“Now we’ve had 24 patients test positive for influenza in January and 16 within the last four days.”
The majority of the medical center’s patients have been able to be treated within the emergency room and released to go home.
However, some are being admitted into SCKMC after displaying signs of severe dehydration.
“It’s more than we had last year, and it’s earlier,” said Tracy Austin, SCKMC’s director of nursing. “We have seen numerous patients, where the family members will all have it.”
Of those admitted into the hospital, several have been children younger than 2 years old.
“It really is going to hit the elderly and infants a lot harder,” explained Bonnie Schieber, registered nurse and SCKMC’s ER manager. “They are going to be the two groups who are more severe.”
Influenza, or “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs.
It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly, including:
- fever — it’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever, however;
- muscle or body aches;
- runny or stuffy nose;
- sore throat;
- vomiting and diarrhea — although this is more common in young children than in adults.
“If you are sick with it, stay home,” Schieber said.
“Do not go out in public. Do not go outside, because you are highly contagious and all you are going to do is spread your germs to where everybody else can get them.”
To decrease the spread of the virus, the medical center has implemented a strict visitation policy of not allowing visitors younger than 12 and requesting that anyone who enters the facility, but has not had a flu shot, wears a mask.
“The flu is transmitted via droplet, so if you are coughing, you don’t realize how much is actually coming out,” Austin said.
“That is why they want you to wear the mask. It’s keeping you from inhaling those droplets and getting the flu.”
In addition, staff is requesting that patients who are experiencing flu-like symptoms also wear a mask.
“We are asking that all patients that present to the ER for flu-like symptoms wear a mask that we are providing,” Schieber said.
“It is to protect others from the germs. We are asking for their cooperation with trying to keep the germ level low.”
If you have avoided the flu so far, SCKMC staff recommend a few simple tips to decrease your chances of catching it.
“Wash your hands a lot and don’t touch the ‘T-zone’ — your eyes, nose and mouth,” Eiselt said.
The team also says it’s not too late to have a flu shot. Eiselt began providing flu vaccinations to SCKMC staff and volunteers last October, and has given more than 200 vaccinations this season.
“If you do get the flu shot, you are much less susceptible to getting the flu, and it will lessen the actual effects of the flu if you get it,” Austin said.
This information was provided by South Central Kansas Medical Center Marketing Director Clayton Pappan.