Flu season ‘just starting,’ vaccinations urged
Local health care providers are seeing more cases of the flu among adults between 20 and 50 than other sectors of the population. Also, officials say the flu has reached Rhode Island sooner than usual.
“It’s hitting us earlier than it did last year,” said Dr. Olivier Gherardi of CareWell on Centerville Road.
Gherardi reported eight cases of the flu, mostly among adults. The clinic has also experienced an increase in norovirus, a stomach illness that is accompanied by vomiting but is not related to the flu.
Kent Hospital reported 37 cases of the flu since October, with nine admissions and five of those within the last week. Last Wednesday, the Department of Health held a news conference to highlight an outbreak of the flu, reporting 51 persons had been hospitalized.
“We know the flu is widespread, in line with the state data,” said Kent spokesman James Beardsworth.
“Everything is going as predicted,” said Dr. David Lowe, Kent’s epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist. Lowe said the flu season is just starting and warned it could become an epidemic.
Patricia Seltzer, RN, Warwick Community Wellness Nurse/Wellness Coordinator said yesterday she hasn’t seen many cases of the flu. Much of Seltzer’s work is with the elderly, who aren’t being affected by this strain of flu this year.
“People have flu-like symptoms, but nothing over the normal,” she said.
Seltzer also reported that lower than usual numbers have turned out at vaccination clinics.
“I haven’t seen as big an outpouring from the community as I did last year,” she said.
The city’s next clinic will be held Thursday, Jan. 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Buttonwoods Community Center. Seltzer said if people cannot make a clinic they could call her at 467-4077 and make an appointment for a vaccination at the Pilgrim Center.
The department reported on Monday that 51 persons had been hospitalized as of last Wednesday. More current information will be available tomorrow, according to department spokeswoman Andrea Bagnall-Degos. She said no deaths have been reported.
Since notification on Wednesday, three municipal vaccination clinics have been held, with 377 being immunized at Warwick Mall and 82 and 149 in Foster and Johnston, respectively. As of Monday, 438,224 Rhode Islanders, or about 40 percent of the population, had been immunized, which is 5 percent more than at this time last year. Bagnall-Degos said the goal of Health Director Dr. Michael Fine is 80 to 90 percent of the population.
“We don’t want people to forget [to get the vaccination] because it’s not too late,” she said.
Warwick schools reported no increase in absences resulting from the flu.
Gherardi recommended those who have the flu to stay out of work or school and take precautions to prevent spreading the virus, like sneezing into their elbows and not into the air.
“Washing your hands is one of the most important things,” he said.
He said the flu is generally “a solid five days of feeling miserable.” People cease being contagious 24 hours after the fever breaks. At his clinic, Gherardi said most of the cases were treated without hospitalization. The one patient referred to Kent Hospital was a case with respiratory complications.
“It’s not too late to get the flu shot. There’s still time to avoid it [the flu],” Gherardi said.
It’s advice repeated by other health providers and the Department of Health. Gherardi expects the worst of the flu season has yet to hit.
Fred Liddle, physician assistant with Ocean State Urgent Care in Cumberland and Smithfield, likewise urged people to get vaccinated. In the last week, he said, the two Urgent Care clinics have confirmed six cases of the flu.
Gherardi said cases of the flu can be identified with a nasal swab. Results are available in 10 minutes. He could not say how many of those with confirmed cases of the flu had been vaccinated.
Lowe advised people who have already had the flu to get vaccinated because there are many strains of the flu. He said the key to success is to identify the predominant strain in a given season nationwide, and it appears that the Center for Disease Control “guessed it right” in picking the H1N1 strain.
Lowe also said, while the vaccination isn’t 100 percent effective, those who get the flu after being vaccinated will likely have milder reactions. He applauded the Health Department and Dr. Fine for regulations requiring the immunization of hospital personnel.
“You don’t have to worry about getting it in the hospital,” he said.
He cautioned that it is early in the season and we will see more in the emergency room and in the hospital.
“The season is just starting,” he said. “I urge everybody to get vaccinated.”