The flu is one of the most contagious diseases that can affect people of all ages. Children and those with a weakened immune system are most prone to the illness. The inflicted usually suffer from a high fever, headache, and loss of strength, thus preventing them from doing anything other than resting.
Being among the most common conditions, influenza already has various treatments and is known to be curable. Through time, experts have learned that ridding the body of the influenza virus with its specific strain can cure a patient. There is also a plethora of treatment and prevention methods that patients can apply at home.
Despite these, people shouldn’t be too complacent about it as the disease is deadly too. In fact, the United States has recently declared a nationwide influenza epidemic following a large number of infected cases and the rising number of deaths in all states.
The nationwide influenza epidemic
In the US, flu is a seasonal condition that sends many people to hospitals. It typically strikes from October to April, but the hospitals, as well as the government, are almost always prepared for its coming. This season’s influenza, however, has worried a large number of people in the community as it sent the highest number of patients in almost a decade to hospitals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 12,000 citizens have already suffered from the condition until late January this year. Its 3,000 increase in patients was also seen in just a week, making it one of the fastest growing epidemic. The report even compares this growth to the swine flu pandemic back in 2009-2010 as it closely resembles the later.
As of mid-February, a total of 97 deaths were recorded among children alone. In some weeks, more or less 10 children died because of the flu, and this didn’t even include those unrecorded cases from non-hospital deaths. Among adults, the number is unusually higher as well with most deaths recorded among non-elderly adults ages 50 to 64. The total number of hospital visits was also higher than any seasonal influenza since 2003.
For several weeks and months, the flu cases have only increased until the first drop was observed in late February this year. The flu’s peak season may have already ended, but there continue to be new cases recorded every week. So, the public is advised to practice some common prevention methods everywhere they go.
Virus strain H3N2: The nasty culprit
Because of the high surge in flu cases, this seasonal influenza is said to be almost at pandemic level. Although, it’s technically not. A pandemic should introduce a new strain of virus wherein people have not previously had exposure to. Unlike this one, the virus strain mainly involved is a predominant one, and it is classified as among the deadliest strains.
The recent influenza outbreak was caused by A viruses and two different strains of B viruses. Among all these, the H3N2 strain dominated, which is the main cause of increased hospitalizations, complications, and deaths. This strain is strongest in effect among children, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases.
The H3N2 strain has existed for about 50 years and is quicker than any other viruses in adapting to a human’s immune system. CDC estimates that since 2010, the illness has already caused a 9.2 to 35.6 million illnesses among US citizens alone.
How did hospitals deal with the outbreak?
Since a widespread virus activity is seen in all US states, it follows that hospitals and medical centers should quickly respond. To effectively carry out their mission, hospitals had to take extraordinary measures such as having all staff work overtime and carrying out medical missions outside of hospitals in set triage tents. Health practitioners were especially overwhelmed by the unnerving scenario as most have not witnessed this for 15 years or more.
In response to the widespread epidemic, the government of Alabama has declared a state of emergency. To better cater to the flu patients, its hospitals had to cancel scheduled elective surgeries and treated patients in places where they normally don’t. A similar condition can be observed in California where ‘surge tents’ were set up to accommodate and treat patients as hospital rooms were already overcrowded.
In Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Health System responded correspondingly by setting up ‘surge tents’ in their parking lot. Health practitioners reported of days when about 40 people were treated in each tent. The Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center and Chicago’s Loyola University Health System temporarily restricted children visitations during the surge to prevent the spread of the flu symptoms. They’ve noted, however, that the mandate was a standard operating procedure along with giving all their employees a mandatory flu shot.
Other hospitals, like the SSM Health St. Clare Hospital, came up with emergency extension wings in their buildings and added holding centers, as well as outpatient centers, to make additional spaces for patients. The nurses were also asked to work extra hours at increased hourly rates to somehow reward their hard work. However, this was not a successful effort as the nurses themselves were sick with flu.
All hospitals with their respective employees did everything in their power to cater to all flu patients, especially those whose pre-existing conditions were worsened because of influenza. These patients suffered from respiratory failure and infections because of the strong virus strain. Those who had the worst complications ended in deathbed as their conditions had gone too severe.
Although the incidents of flu have slowed down in the recent weeks, hospitals are still not wavering in their efforts as new patients are still coming. Doctors are neither backing up in their constant reminder for citizens to get a flu shot. Others who have not had the flu can also exercise more caution by visiting their primary care doctors so that they won’t end up in hospital beds.
Symptoms and prevention techniques for influenza
The flu can happen to anyone at any time as the deadly virus is spread through the air. It is necessary to look after the common symptoms to avoid worsening the condition. If one has the flu, he or she could experience the following:
- Itchy or a sore throat with a cough
- Fever or chills
- Stuffy or a runny nose
- Headaches, muscle aches, and body aches
- Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children)
The simplest reminder to everyone to prevent contracting influenza is to frequently wash their hands with soap and water. Scrub all the fingers and all corners of the hand for not less than 20 seconds to kill all flu-causing germs. Additionally, if one has flu-like symptoms at home, isolate that person’s toothbrush, utensils, and other personal care supplies to avoid spreading the bacteria. Do not forget to have the person checked in a clinic or hospital.
It also pays to wipe off the remote control, door-knob, light switches, and other shared areas at home that are touched by hand with antibacterial wipes. The most important reminder, however, is for everyone to be vaccinated as it decreases, to a large extent, the chance of contracting the flu.
It is likely that the peak season for the flu has already passed in the country. Nonetheless, the flu season continues and may continue until April this year. This is why hospitals are still on alert and so should the citizens. Everyone needs to be on the look for the symptoms as awareness is key to preventing the deadly flu.