By Ken de la Bastide
One Howard County hospital is experiencing an increase in the number of patients with flu-like symptoms, while the other is seeing more patients, but not because of a climb in flu cases.
The Indiana State Department of Health reported Wednesday that ten people in the state have died from the flu, in what is being declared an earlier than normal outbreak in the U.S.
“We are now well into what appears to be a somewhat severe flu season,” said State Health Commissioner Gregory Lakin, M.D. “However, it is absolutely not too late to become vaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated this year, I encourage you to get vaccinated now to protect you and your family.”
The Howard County Health Department will be conducting a special flu vaccination clinic on Monday. Local residents wanting a vaccination should call 765-456-2408 and press “1” for nursing to set up an appointment.
The 2012-2013 vaccine protects against the three most common strains of influenza: H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B. Health officials say that although cases of H1N1 and Influenza B have been reported, the H3N2 strain appears to be predominant. The 2012-2013 vaccine appears to be a good match for circulating flu strains.
“Typically, H3N2 seasons tend to be more severe, with a higher number of hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Lakin. “Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should contact their health care provider, even if they have been vaccinated.”
Karen Long, an RN with the county Health Department, said normally the peak flu season in Indiana is February through early March.
“The trend is that we’re higher than the average for the past three years,” Long said. “The sense from our sources is that they’re seeing more patients with flu symptoms.”
In Howard County, health officials are seeing more of the H3N2 strain and hardly any of the H1N1.
Long said everyone six months or older is being encouraged to receive a flu vaccination. She said it takes two weeks for the vaccine to work and can’t give a person the flu.
Community Howard Regional Health mandated that all employees receive a flu vaccination.
The hospital has masks and sanitizers in all lobbies, according to Marketing Director Janet Knight. Knight said visitors with a cold, fever or other flu-like symptoms are being asked not to visit patients.
Scott Lakin, manager of emergency services, said Community Howard is not finding an abnormal rate of flu. He said the hospital is getting a case per day on average and the tests are showing it’s the H3N2 strain.
Lakin said the flu outbreak appears to be hitting the southern part of the state.
“We are seeing a lot of patients,” he said. “Our average is 70 per day and right now we’re seeing 80 to 85 patients per day. This happens every time of the year, we’re asking people to have patience with us because there is a longer waiting period.”
St, Joseph Hospital is seeing more flu cases and is at the highest level in two years, said Monette Allen, director of emergency services.
She said the level is similar to the 2009 H1N1 epidemic. Allen said the hospital is seeing frail elderly patients and not children with the flu.
Allen said people should wash hands frequently, use hand sanitizers and stay about 6 feet away from someone who may be sick.
Sandy Herman, director of public relations, said employees were encouraged to receive a flu shot, but it wasn’t mandatory. She said employees had to fill out a form declining the vaccination and provide a reason.
“We’re moving toward making it mandatory,” she said.