This flu season is the worst in almost a decade, according to health experts.
Cobleskill Regional Hospital has seen more flu patients than usual since mid-January, and it could worsen.
“It’s very widespread now,” said Amy Gildemeister, Schoharie County public health director. “This is the worst since 2009.”
But there are precautions and preventatives offered by hospital staff and Dr. Gildemeister. (See related story.)
Joan Goodrich, director of the hospital’s Emergency Department, said there have been 25 confirmed cases, most of them since January 13.
“We’ve seen a lot,” Ms. Goodrich said, “but we still haven’t seen the huge influx yet. February is the traditional month.”
The prevalent flu strain is H3N2, which, according to Dr. Gildemeister, is more acute than other strains.
Roy Korn, the hospital’s medical director, agreed.
“With this flu, people are getting sicker,” he said. “There’s increased severity.”
Dr. Korn, Ms. Goodrich and Dr. Gildemeister agreed that children and the elderly are more susceptible to H3N2.
“We always worry about the young and the elderly,” said Dr. Gildemeister. “In the past, we had a flu that struck young adults. This is not it.”
Children are susceptible because they often don’t follow preventative measures, according to Fay Mead, the hospital’s occupational health nurse.
“They touch their face and don’t cover their face when they sneeze or cough,” she said.
One problem is that H3N2 is hard to match with a flu shot vaccine. A flu shot gives someone a one in three chance of preventing H3N2, Dr. Gildemeister said.
Still, because other flu strains are likely to come, a flu shot may have a higher match with different strains, she added.
Health officials urged people to get a flu shot, which are available at local pharmacies. And although people may get the flu later, the shot will not cause the flu.
“Even if you haven’t had a flu shot, it’s not too late,” Ms. Goodrich said. “It takes two weeks to build up immunity.”
And, if someone has a flu shot and gets the flu, it will be less severe and of shorter duration, Dr. Gildermeister said.
She knows from experience. On Thursday, Dr. Gildermeister and her husband were just getting over the flu.
“My husband and I got flu shots,” she said. “Later, we got the flu. We did not get a fever. We were sick, but we weren’t miserable. That was good.”
The hospital is having staff and consultants get flu shots, and it’s also strengthened visitation. Visitors must check in at a nurses’ station; if they show flu symptoms––coughs, runny nose, aches, fever––they’re not allowed the visit.
The hospital also promotes increased hand-washing, hand-wipes, masks and sanitizers to reduce the spread, Dr. Korn said.
There are differing opinions on how long the flu season may last. Hospital officials believe the peak hasn’t come yet, while Dr. Gildemeister believes the peak is here.
“It’s ramped up much more quickly than usual, and I hope it goes down,” she said. “But typically, we get another peak towards spring.”