By Kevin Kelley
If you’ve experienced fever, muscle aches and a cough in recent weeks, you’re not alone.
During the current flu season, 1,922 influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported in Ohio though Jan. 5, according to the state’s Department of Health. That figure compares to 175 in the 2010-2011 season and 86 in the 2011-2012 season.
Doctors at Fairview Hospital in Cleveland and St. John Medical Center in Westlake say they are also seeing more influenza cases.
During the last flu season, only 17 patients were admitted to Fairview Hospital with influenza, hospital officials told West Life. This year, the figure is already up to 60 as of Friday.
Neil P. Smith, D.O., Fairview Hospital’s vice president for medical operations, said his emergency department has been seeing about 50 to 70 influenza cases per day in recent weeks. But only about one or two require admission, he said.
“I would say most people end up at the emergency room after they’ve been ill for anywhere from five to 15 days,” Smith said.
Persons with pre-existing conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, are at the greatest risk of developing pneumonia from the flu, Smith said, as are the elderly.
The more severe flu season has caused some longer waits at Fairview Hospital’s emergency room, Smith acknowledged.
“Everybody in Northeastern Ohio seems to have some sort of upper respiratory inflection,” Smith said.
People who haven’t gotten sick yet can stay healthy by taking care to wash their hands, especially following contact with people who have been coughing, Smith said.
And sick people can take action to spare those around them.
“Stay home from work or stay home from school – that’s the biggest thing,” Smith said. “If you start having symptoms – fever, chills, muscle aches and a cough – most likely you have some sort of infection. And the worse thing you can do is bring it into the workplace or school, because it’s going to spread.”
Smith said he’s seen patients sick with the flu even though they had received an influenza vaccine.
“It could be a different strain of flu, or it could be that, even though you got the flu vaccination, you didn’t develop enough antibodies to protect yourself from the flu,” Smith said of vaccinated persons who still got sick.
Smith still advises people to get the flu shot, as the flu season can extend into May.
“You’ll still get some protective effects,” he said.
At St. John Medical Center in Westlake, Emergency Department Director Roy Seitz, M.D., has been seeing 15 to 20 cases of influenza each day in recent weeks. But only about 10 percent are so ill they need to be admitted. And most of those are elderly patients, he added.
Seitz said about half of the people he’s seeing are elderly patients experiencing complications such as dehydration, while the other half are not as sick.
“There’s also a fair number of kids with the flu,” he said, referring to toddlers, ages 2 to 3, suffering from fevers and coughing.
A person who is aching all over with a fever and sore throat can usually treat him- or herself with over-the-counter remedies, Seitz said, as along as any single symptom isn’t too severe. One should seek medical help if he or she becomes severely dehydrated, usually evident by persistent vomiting, Seitz said.
St. John Medical Center had to briefly divert patients to other emergency departments during the last week in December due to an overwhelming number of patients, Seitz said.
“We seem to be keeping up,” Seitz said, adding that his emergency department has asked staff to come in early or stay late to keep up with the additional number of patients.
“This (flu) seems a little worse,” Seitz said. “And the symptoms seem a little worse. People are really laid low.”
The treatment for the typical influenza patient is lots of fluids, Tylenol and bed rest, Seitz said. The antiviral drug Tamiflu is only effective within the first 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms, he noted.
Families should, to the extent that’s reasonably possible, quarantine the sick person, as the virus is quite contagious, Seitz said.
“Stay about six feet away from (sick) people,” Seitz said. “Don’t get in their coughing and sneezing radius. Leave them in a room by themselves.”
He also advises those suffering to hang in there.
“It won’t be gone in a day or two,” Seitz said. “It may go on three to five days.”
Seitz said the ER is also seeing a lot of cases of bronchitis and RSV or respiratory syncytial virus, which causes respiratory tract infections. Both are typical for this time of year, he explained.