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Flu deaths, cases continue to spike

by ANDREW MACIEJEWSKI - amaciejewski@wabashplaindealer.com

Flu related deaths quadrupled since Dec. 30, 2017, and Wabash County’s health district had the highest percentage of influenza-like-illnesses reported, according to Indiana State Department of Health records.

Flu related deaths for the state stand at 107 as of January 20 this year. Three-fourths of those deaths are from people who are 65 or older, according to ISDH reports. Parkview Wabash Hospital has had 61 new positive lab results for the flu this year and 11 cases reported in December 2017, hospital records show.

School nurses around the county also reported spikes in flu-like viruses.

“We have a lot of kids not feeling well, whether they have the actual flu versus other viral illnesses, you know, a lot of colds and coughs as well. I do know of some who have been diagnosed with the flu,” said John Davis, a nurse for Wabash City Schools. “It’s definitely on the rise.”

Wabash County Health Department nurse Lori Foust said it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The local health department still has a supply of high-dose vaccinations for people 65 or older, Foust said. These vaccines are more effective than those offered to younger, healthier patients. Medicaid covers the cost of high-dose shots.

Foust urges people of all ages to wash their hands properly, eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, cover one’s mouth when coughing or sneezeing and stay home when feeling sick, especially when symptoms like fever and body aches are present. Wait 24 hours before returning to work or school.

The flu is mostly spread through airborne particles or bodily fluids, Davis said. So, elderly people whose immune systems are naturally less effective should wear masks in public and be careful when seeing the doctor, Foust said.

“You gotta try not to be around sick people, and I know that’s really hard,” Foust said. “The sad thing is it’s everywhere. It’s hard to stay healthy when everybody around you is sick. That’s one of the reasons why we get a flu shot is to try to boost our immunity.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scientists have updated flu vaccines to include strains that match those which are circulating. As the disease is transmitted, the virus mutates, making it harder to control.

“There’s always the thought that, if you get the vaccine, perhaps even if you are affected by the flu, you would have a less severe case,” Foust said. “They would still offer some protection. Very rarely would they be 100 percent effective. Some years they are simply not as effective as other years. There’s a different strain that comes around than what is in the vaccine, and apparently that is what has happened this year.”

When nurses at Wabash City Schools, Manchester Community Schools and the Metropolitan School District of Wabash County see students with symptoms, they send them home and ask their parents to get them screened because only a laboratory can determine if the child has the flu.

Students diagnosed with the flu can have symptoms for more than a week, Davis said. Doctors send a note with the student and students cannot return to school until they are free of a fever for 24 hours without fever reducing medication. Vomitting and diarrhea have the same 24-hour requirement as well.

There have not been any school-wide outbreaks this year, according to ISDH reports, but school nurses and counties are having a tough time keeping the flu under control.

“The sad thing about the flu is that you are spreading germs and you’re sick two to three days before you know you’re sick,” Foust said.

“We do a lot of disinfecting of the desks in the classrooms and our nurses’ office,” Davis said. “Teach hand washing and things like that to try and prevent the spread as best we can.”

Flu shots are available through local doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies and the Wabash County Health Department.