The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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January 9, 2013

Local hospitals cope with flu outbreak

MERCER COUNTY — If you had the flu, take some solace: You’re not alone.

All three of Mercer County’s hospital systems report a rise in the number of flu patients walking through their emergency doors. The increase mirrors a national trend with the number of flu cases rapidly increasing over the holidays. As people gathered together to celebrate, they ended up passing along the flu bug to friends and family.  

“We’re seeing a large influx coming into our emergency department with the flu,’’ said JoAnne Clobus, vice president of marketing and public relations for Grove City Medical Center in Pine Township.

But, she added, in the large majority of cases the hospital is treating symptoms and discharging the patients.

UPMC Horizon and UMPC Urgent Care at Hermitage have seen an increase in patient volume the last two weeks due to the flu, said Erin Palko, Horizon’s public relations manager. She added Horizon has seen confirmed cases of H3N2 flu strain.

Symptoms run the gamut of most flu strains – runny nose, sore throat, aching muscles, headache, cough, nasal congestion and fever.

“Symptoms do seem to be more severe this season according to the Urgent Care staff, and the hospital has flu patients in its critical care units,’’ Palko said.

Sharon Regional Health System also is experiencing an increase in flu patients both in its Emergency Care Center and in those being admitted  to the hospital, said Ed Newmeyer, Sharon Regional’s director of marketing and community relations.

“At this time, we are not restricting visitors, but are asking those who have a cough or flu symptoms to refrain from visiting individuals in the hospital,’’ Newmeyer said, echoing the concerns of the other hospital systems.

Sharon Regional staff working at entry points such as its emergency room, Diagnostic and Imaging Center, and other registration areas have been educated in recognizing flu symptoms, he added. Signs have been posted in those areas asking patients to notify staff if they are experiencing symptoms of the flu.

To prevent the spread of the flu, patients exhibiting flu symptoms are offered a kit containing a mask to wear, hand gel, tissues, and a brown bag. Patients are instructed on the use of the mask and hand gel and are asked to use the brown bag for disposal of soiled tissues. Additional alcohol hand gel has been added in a variety of locations to encourage use.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the ongoing flu season nationally is one of the worst in a decade – and the season hasn’t peaked. Further, the influenza is running five weeks ahead of typical yearly schedule, the CDCP said.

Another gauge of the spike in flu cases is that the number of people seeing their doctors for influenza-like illness is above the national baseline for the fourth consecutive week. The rate has grown sharply from 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent over the past four weeks, said the health agency.

All medical providers agree: If you have flu-like symptoms it’s best to stay home, drink plenty of fluids and wash your hands frequently.

 

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