The number of confirmed cases of influenza has spiked significantly at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in the past two weeks, mirroring the trend in our community. On Monday January 8, the hospital's emergency department recorded a 15% increase in emergency visits, due mainly to patients reporting influenza-like symptoms. The hospital brought in additional staff to help provide care for the surge in emergency patients.
"Patients who come to our hospital with flu-like symptoms are tested with a nasal swab," said PeaceHealth Southwest Infection Preventionist Heidi Lancaster-Rice. "In the past week we have seen the daily number of confirmed cases of influenza in our hospital jump to nearly 50. That's about what we commonly see at the peak of a typical flu season." Lancaster-Rice says Clark County's influenza rate is far higher than both state and national levels. "The percentage of positive flu results in Washington is about 14%, and about 15% nationally. Clark County is at 36%. We are extremely high in our little community."
Patients treated at PeaceHealth Southwest for flu-like symptoms are placed in "droplet isolation" rooms, helping limit the potential spread of flu virus in the hospital. At this time, 50 PeaceHealth Southwest patients are in droplet isolation protocol, which also directs caregivers to wear a mask and gloves when dealing with droplet isolation patients, and to follow strict hand hygiene guidelines.
Dr. Stephen Kormanyos, Medicine Department Chair at PeaceHealth Southwest, says many people who contract influenza can treat themselves safely and successfully at home with rest and plenty of liquids. However, patients experiencing certain symptoms should seek emergency medical attention. "Anyone who is struggling with breathing, persistent high fever, fatigue, dizziness, or not able to keep food or fluids down should seek medical care," said Kormanyos. "We have medications that can reduce the duration of flu symptoms if delivered early enough."
In addition to hospital emergency departments, patients in need of medical attention should also consider the advantages of visiting urgent care centers, where wait times may be shorter and the cost of care may be lower.
"With flu season shifting into high gear, it's critically important that we each do all we can to protect ourselves," said PeaceHealth Infection Preventionist Disha Sampat. "First, get a flu shot. You may hear rumors that this year's flu shot is a not a good match with this year's virus, but do not let that stop you from taking action to protect yourself. It's simply too early in the flu season for the CDC to be able to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine. Get a flu shot, wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and be extra vigilant around high-touch surfaces such as door handles, telephones, gas pumps. Those surfaces can act as hosts for the influenza virus for hours after contamination."
PeaceHealth's infection prevention team says we can all play a part in reducing the spread of flu. "Be conscientious," said Lancaster-Rice. "If you have a cough or sneeze, use the sleeve of your elbow rather than your hand. Use hand sanitizer generously, and be mindful of exposing your colleagues at work. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, stay home until the symptoms have cleared."
For more information about flu, visit: