Hospitals are experiencing an increase in patients with flu-like symptoms and other viruses.
Joseph Wendelken, the Director of Information at the state Department of Health, told the Beacon Tuesday that holidays tend to become busier at this time of year, resulting in an in flux in patient numbers due to an increase in flu-related hospitalizations, norovirus and persistent, icy conditions putting people more at risk for injury. Bronchitis, pneumonia, and general pulmonary illnesses have also been prevalent.
Wendelken said that flu numbers have only increased since the beginning of the winter season. As of Tuesday, there have been two recorded deaths and 113 hospitalizations from flu-like symptoms, taken from sentinel surveillance sites, which involve reports from a limited network of local hospitals in the state.
He said that the Department of Health uses a tiered system to measure flu severity. Currently the outbreak has brought hospitals to tier one, requiring healthcare workers to wear surgical masks to protect them from the flu. This is also done to protect patients who may be more vulnerable, or have other health issues that might cause issues.
Wendelken advised it is important to have a relationship with your primary care provider. It is beneficial to make an effort to see your primary care provider regularly in order to be prepared in case you may fall ill, he said.
James Beardsworth, the Director of Marketing Communications at Care New England, describes the situation at Kent Hospital as busy, as there is an up-tick in patient numbers in the emergency room, but to remember that healthcare staff and the emergency department are ready to deal with these increased numbers.
Kent Hospital receives anywhere between 90 to 200 patients in the Emergency Department a day, but recently have been seeing in excess of 200 patients on some days, according to Beardsworth.
The Rhode Island Department of Health provides information on steps you should take in order to avoid getting sick from seasonal flu viruses. Getting vaccinated is the best and most effective course of action against the flu.
Anyone over six months of age should be vaccinated every year. Pregnant women, people over the age of 60 and healthcare workers should be the most vigilant in getting vaccinated.
The Office of Immunization provides free flu vaccinations for students in kindergarten through grade 12 at school-based clinics. You can also get your immunizations at local pharmacies.
Patricia Seltzer, the Community Wellness Nurse at the Warwick Department of Human Services, responded to the Beacon, reminding everyone to “come in and get your immunization shot if you haven’t already.”
According to Seltzer, “employee rates are up, but community rates are down.” This means that people are simply not coming in to receive their vaccinations as much as previous years, despite having the staff to accommodate. Seniors, who are especially at risk for falling ill, are not coming in to receive their high dose flu vaccine, and statistically are being hospitalized at greater numbers than younger ages. “We know that when seniors do get the flu, they have more complications involved.” Seltzer gives pneumonia as just one example of the risks for the elderly falling ill.
Beardsworth said that pulmonary viruses such as bronchitis are seen quite frequently at Kent Hospital around this time of year.
On the state Department of Health website, Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, says: “For people who have not been vaccinated yet, it is not too late. Flu vaccine is the best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu.”
Seltzer provided some advice regarding the viruses going around.
“If you’re sick, please stay home,” she said.
She said as soon as someone goes into work ill and begins shaking hands and interacting with people, that is when he or she is most at risk for spreading the virus. People in close proximity of each other are much more susceptible to catching the flu. Seltzer reminds the public that it is important to wash their hands often. Cough and sneeze into your elbow rather than in your hands, she said.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Maintaining a healthy amount of sleep and exercise, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating properly are all crucial components to keeping your immune system strong. The Department of Health describes symptoms for the flu, which include fever, cough, headaches, runny nose, body aches and fatigue.
Seltzer said that if you do begin to experience symptoms, to “please go to a walk-in treatment center, or your primary care doctor first.” It is important to keep hospitals from filling up with flu patients that can receive the proper treatment from their primary doctor instead.
The Department of Health explains that norovirus is also highly contagious, and outbreaks can spread rapidly, especially in close environments. A person may remain contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to as long as two weeks after recovery. To avoid norovirus, make sure to keep surfaces disinfected and be mindful of bacteria in the kitchen. Wash fruits, vegetables and thoroughly cook shellfish before eating.