Thursday, January 8, 2015

Peak flu season arrives in time for the holidays

Every year the influenza virus cycles through our area and causes its share of coughing, sneezing, feverish misery. And for some -- particularly children, the elderly or pregnant women -- the flu can be very serious. The CDC reports, “Although the timing of influenza activity varies from year to year, peak activity in the United States most commonly occurs during January to March, but there can be substantial influenza activity as early as November and December.”

In Fauquier this flu season, December was a tough month.

According to Dr. Anhtai Nguyen, Chief Medical Officer at Fauquier Health, in December, 193 patients at Fauquier Hospital tested positive for type A influenza and eight tested positive for type B. This is out of a total of 577 patients who were tested. By comparison, in December of 2013, only seven tested positive for type A and one for type B; 205 were tested. That means that in December of 2014, approximately 35 percent tested positive as compared to only 3.4 percent last year. That’s a tenfold increase.

Although it’s too early to say whether the increase is at least partially the result of a vaccine that doesn’t exactly match the particular strain of virus that is prevalent, the CDC does state that, “Influenza viral characterization data indicates that 48% of the influenza A (H3N2) viruses collected and analyzed in the United States from October 1 through November 22, 2014 were antigenically like the 2014-2015 influenza A (H3N2) vaccine component, but that 52% were antigenically different (drifted) from the H3N2 vaccine virus.”

Mary Locklin, who manages the Sterile Processing Department at Fauquier Hospital, said, “It’s always preferable when the vaccine is determined to be a close match with what is ultimately determined to be the most common circulating strain. However, even when the match isn’t perfect, it is believed that the vaccine still affords some protection.”
Typical flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Locklin said that one of the most common questions she is asked is, “If I have flu symptoms, how do I know if I should seek medical attention?” She said,If a person with flu has difficulty breathing (shortness of breath, etc…) chest pain or significant abdominal pain, confusion, dizziness, or vomiting that won’t stop, they should seek medical attention right away, either with their family doctor or at the emergency room. Individuals with chronic health conditions (and pregnant women) should alert their providers about their symptoms and maintain close communication with their physicians.”
Dr. Nguyen added that, “Antivirals like oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®) can shorten the duration of symptoms and reduce the likelihood of complications, so they can be a very important adjunct to vaccination. These drugs should only be used when prescribed by physicians and then only by the individual for whom the prescription is intended.”

Flu Prevention
Locklin, an expert in infection control, emphasized, “I can’t say enough about hand hygiene and its role in preventing the spread of flu. There are so many opportunities to perform hand hygiene; especially in health care, but also for the public. All of us can be more mindful of the things we touch that are commonly touched by others (door handles, elevator buttons, grocery carts, gasoline pump handles, etc…) all of these present opportunities to perform hand hygiene. Many grocery stores have hand hygiene stations and/or stations to access a disinfectant cloth to clean the cart. Good hand hygiene means hands are washed for about 20 seconds, and during that time all surfaces of the hands are scrubbed (friction is our friend).

“Our hands are always touching something, and since many communicable pathogens can survive outside a host for a significant period of time, it’s likely that we will come into contact with what we call in healthcare, an opportunistic pathogen. Even if it doesn’t make us sick, if we fail to wash our hands appropriately, we can unknowingly provide a ride for that pathogen, ultimately transmitting it to another location, where someone else may pick it up.”

The CDC website, at, has an extensive section on influenza, including detailed information on the virus itself and a weekly update on flu activity throughout the nation.

Visiting Restrictions in place at Fauquier Hospital
In order to prevent the spread of flu infection, restrictions on patient visiting at Fauquier Hospital have been put in place. These are temporary measures, instituted in response to an increase of flu cases in our area.

·         Visitors are welcome between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
(Each patient is encouraged to have one care partner, who may visit at any time.)
·         Only two visitors at a time (not including the patient’s care partner) in each patient room.
·         Visitors must be at least 16 years of age.
·         Visitors who are experiencing any flu symptoms will not be permitted on patient floors. These symptoms include: cough, fever, chills and/or body aches.
·         Visitors who are displaying any cold symptoms will be asked to wear a mask.

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