|January 17, 2013
Increased incidences of influenza expected locally
By B.L. Azure
THHS Public Information Officer
Your health is in your hands
This is especially true during influenza season. The Tribal Health Department, Lake County Health Department and health care providers continue to monitor for influenza like illnesses locally.
Influenza is communicable disease spread by coughing and sneezing by an infected person, by touching things that have the virus on them and then touching the mouth or nose. A person can spread the virus for two days before the symptoms develop and 7-10 days after becoming sick.
• Symptoms of influenza are: fever greater than 100 degrees; cough and/or sore throat; chills; body aches; stuffy nose; fatigue; nausea; and, vomiting. Diarrhea may also accompany above symptoms
People should be prepared to spend up to a week at home in case they get sick and those that are ill shouldn’t be going to the store for the last minute supplies.
People that are ill need to stay home from work or school until they have been fever free (without Tylenol or other fever control medications) for 24 hours.
The current recommendation is that health care workers need to stay off work for seven days.
• Recommendations to combat or deal with influenza are: get the seasonal flu shot as soon as it is available; stay home when sick; cover you mouth and nose with your sleeve when you cough or sneeze; avoid touching mouth and nose; wash hands frequently, especially after cough or sneeze; alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective if a person is unable to wash hands with soap and water; wash hands after shaking hands, before eating or preparing food, touching mouth, nose or eyes; limit contact with others that may be ill; make sure to take enough fluids while are sick; employers should encourage employees to stay home if they are sick; if a person does develop possible flu symptoms and they want to consult a health care provider, they should call before going in for an office visit.
ST. IGNATIUS — More cases of influenza, like tumbleweeds riding the gusts of a westerly blowing breeze, are on the way to western Montana. Consequently, Lake County and Tribal Health and Human Services health care providers are bracing for the increase and are planning concerted strategies to combat the earlier-than-accustomed arrival of the flu season. Representatives from the various governmental and private health care providers will meet today (Thursday) at St. Luke Hospital to fine tune concerted-effort responses.
Barb Plouffe, Tribal Health and Human Services’ Community Health Division manager, said the heretofore efforts among health care providers, schools, hospitals and businesses in Lake County and on the Flathead Indian Reservation seem to be paying dividends in addressing the present situation. But she cautioned that the full frontal blunt of the influenza virus has yet to arrive in Big Sky Country.
According to last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) report for the week ending Saturday, Jan. 5, influenza has been diagnosed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is widespread in 47 states — including Montana — with local-area diagnosis in California and Mississippi as well as the District of Columbia, and sporadic activity in Hawaii. The commonwealth of Guam had no flu activity and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico did not respond to the weekly CDC report queries.
The CDC reports that 111 million workdays are lost each flu season at a cost of $7 billion in sick days and resulting lack of production. However they encourage people to stay home when ill, if not the costs would escalate accordingly. Approximately $10.4 billion is spent on direct costs of flu-related hospitalizations and outpatient visits.
The CDC strongly encourages flu shots as a defense against contacting influenza. There is flu vaccine available that will protect against three major influenza virus strains that are predominate this flu season: A H3N2 virus; B virus, and A H1N1 virus. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older get vaccinated.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services in coordination with the CDC announced that as of Jan. 5, Montana was experiencing widespread diagnosis of flu and flu-like illnesses.
“There is a wide variation of activity of reported number of confirmed or suspected influenza cases across the state,” the DPHHS stated in its report. “While 18 counties have no reported flu activity to date, several have reported greater than 100 confirmed or suspected influenza cases.”
As a result 56 people have been hospitalized and one death of person more than 65 years old in Yellowstone County has been attributed to influenza. The county also has 472 confirmed or suspected cases of influenza, the most of any county in the state. Silver Bow, Flathead and Lewis and Clark counties each have more than 100 reported cases of flu.
According to the DPHHS report, Lake County has had 18 reported cases of flu, Flathead County has had 156 reported cases and Missoula County has had 56 cases reported. Sanders County heretofore has not reported any cases.
The 18 counties without any reported influenza cases are generally the less populated counties in central portion of the state as well as north-central Montana along the Hi-Line. Although Montana’s influenza outbreak has been “widespread” the influenza or influenza-like illness related hospital visits is 1.39-percent of the total hospital visits; nationally the rate is 5.6-percent. In order to be considered “widespread,” laboratory confirmed flu outbreaks must occur in at least half the regions of the state.
The DPHSS said the information in its latest report was provisional and could change as more information is received.
Plouffe said that the tally of cases of influenza is a fairly good indicator of the arrival of flu in areas. However, she cautioned that the tally is only related to folks with the flu that have visited hospitals and clinics. Many people for various reasons, including the cost of visits to health care providers, do not seek professional medical help and ride out the flu symptoms at home.
The Montana Hospital Facility group conducted a 24-hour point-in-time survey late last week to get a snapshot of how this flu season is impacting Montana hospitals. The survey targets the effects that influenza is having on various health care facilities. The non-scientific survey was sent out to state health care facilities, however not all of them responded. Still the survey provided the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and state and tribal health care providers a relatively clear view of the scope of the impacts the flu is sowing in Montana.
One of the main responses to the flu, the survey pointed out, was that some health care facilities are implementing visitor restrictions once the flu has been introduced in their areas, as well as into their facilities, either by staff or patients. The restrictions are not universal among the 27 responding health care facilities — approximately 48-percent have instituted restrictions.
In general in-place restrictions require that visitors to health care facilities must be at least 18 years old with no illnesses of any kind especially communicable, and must be immediate family members. Some health care facilities and long term care providers (assisted living facilities) restricted visitors to people 12 years old and older as well as the number of visitors allowed.
The survey also revealed that Montana health care providers do not have shortages of the flu vaccine. However, there have been some shortages in certain areas nationally. The shortages are related to supply-chain issues as well as some vaccine manufacturers have exhausted their annual supply inventory.
The DPHHS encourages folks who haven’t been immunized to get their flu vaccination. Although there are no widespread shortages of flu vaccine the DPHHS recommends that people contact their health care provider, or local pharmacy or health department to ensure they have the vaccination on inventory.
Everyone regardless of health condition is susceptible to contacting the flu and it can harvest serious results. The elderly, infants and folks with chronic health problems could be susceptible to further health complications.
Plouffe said there are three minor but majorly important and effective practices that people can do to limit their chances of contacting or spreading the flu virus.
“Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands is one,” she said. “People should also cover their mouths with tissue or the bend of their elbow when they cough, and to stay home when they are sick with the flu or any other communicable disease.”
Common flu symptoms include: fever, cough, runny nose, headaches, body aches and fatigue. Some folks experience diarrhea and vomiting and some can develop pneumonia or other dangerous health complications.
For more information, visit the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/flu
Also visit the DPHHS website: http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/influenza