There have been 24 cases which tested positive for flu at Northern Hospital since Jan. 1, according to Kitty Horton, RN, infection prevention manager for the hospital.
Horton reported that all of the cases were Type A influenza virus. There have been no cases of Type B influenza virus.
Although several national news outlets are predicting a particularly severe flu season, Horton said that has “not really” been the case in Surry County so far, saying it is not much different from recent years.
She said there was an uptick in cases after the holidays and the first of the year, but that is not unusual. “When people get back to their lives after the holidays, back to school and daycare, we see it.”
Flu cases have been divided 50/50 between those who received flu vaccinations and those who did not, according to Horton.
As far as people who got a flu shot and still contracted the flu, Horton said, “A lot of times if you do get sick, you won’t get as sick. It’s still helpful.”
Horton recommends a flu shot as the primary way to prevent the flu for people 6 months of age and older. Flu season runs from October through March, and she said February and March can be tough flu months. The shot takes two weeks to become effective, so sooner is better than later.
Pharmacist John Cox, Mt. Airy Drug, said the cost for a flu shot is $25 for people who are uninsured, but Medicare usually covers the cost 100 percent. Many places offer the shots; Cox said his pharmacy makes them available during regular store hours — 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Aside from getting the vaccination, Horton recommends common-sense precautions like avoiding other sick people and generally avoiding contact with anyone displaying flu symptoms, something she calls “social distancing.”
Horton also recommends good respiratory hygiene, such as covering your mouth when you cough, and strongly stressed hand washing. Washing hands with soap and water is the first choice, according to Horton, and when soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It’s also important to disinfect items with which you come into contact.
Kasey Hiatt, a registered nurse in the Emergency Department, said Northern Hospital of Surry County makes surgical masks available at each hospital entrance for patients and/or staff to prevent germs such as the flu from coming into contact with a person’s nose and mouth area. Masks are available in both adult and child sizes as well as hand sanitizer and tissues.
The Center for Disease Control recommends staying home for 24 hours after fever has subsided, according to Horton, who points out that the patient needs to be fever-free without the assistance of fever-reducing drugs such as ibuprofen.
Other CDC recommendations are that people at high risk of serious health complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people over 65 years old especially need to receive the flu vaccination.
Also, children younger than six months of age are not eligible for the vaccination though they are at high risk. The CDC website says it is therefore crucial for their caregivers to be vaccinated.
Vaccination is also important for health care workers and people who live with and care for high-risk people to avoid transmitting disease to the high-risk individuals. Horton said that Northern Hospital requires all employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 30.
There are more creative flu-avoidance strategies out there. Using knuckles instead of fingertips to key in codes at ATM terminals, avoiding sharing pens, using a paper towel to pump gas, and not sharing cell phones or tablets are some helpful hints suggested by American Family Care whose nearest facility is in High Point.
Northern’s Horton sticks with the basics, not endorsing more esoteric practices like knuckling keypads.
“It’s okay to touch things,” she said. “Just wash your hands afterward.”