FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – It’s not an epidemic.
Not yet, that is.
The winter of 2013 is proving to be the worst flu season in 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it seems to be getting worse every day.
The number of confirmed cases of the flu in Connecticut reached 1,676 for the week of Jan. 5, more than three times the number of last year’s total, according to the State Department of Public Health website.
On Friday, Danbury’s mayor Mark Boughton asked residents not to go to the city’s emergency room: “Please stay away from the ER unless you have: blue skin, high fever, can’t wake up, dehydration. Call your primary care physician. ER is overwhelmed,” he said.
In Fairfield County, “Flu cases have skyrocketed,” said Dr. Michael Parry, chair of the infectious diseases department at Stamford Hospital. In fact, Fairfield County, with 451 reported cases, has among the highest concentrations in Connecticut, the state reported.
Just up the turnpike, Boston has declared a health emergency, with 700 confirmed cases of the flu so far. Last year at this time, that city had 70 cases, according to the CDC.
A total of 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, and thousands die from its complications, the CDC said.
At Stamford Hospital, the staff is following safety protocols.
“Patients admitted with known influenza are placed on ‘droplet precaution,’” which means health care personnel wear surgical masks when seeing infected patients, Parry said.
The hospital also has instituted “rapid diagnostic tests to diagnose influenza in both staff and patients without delay so that protection, treatment and disposition can be rapidly implemented,” he said.
If you haven’t already, Parry advocates getting a flu shot, though it can take up to two weeks for your body to build immunity against the virus. Still, he said, the flu season has not peaked and there is plenty of punch left to it.
The flu manifests with fever, chills, sore throat, cough and body aches, among other symptoms. However unpleasant its two-week grip can be, it is usually not life-threatening to otherwise healthy people. Yet, complications, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, can be deadly for some people, including those with pre-existing conditions, as well as pregnant women, children and the elderly.
This year’s flu shots and nasal mists contain vaccines against three strains: H3N2 (seasonal A strain), H1N1 and a B strain. Seasonal influenza A is prevalent now, Parry said.
You are less likely to contract the flu if you have had the vaccine, particularly in a season such as the current one, when the circulating strains of flu are closely related to the immunization.
For those vaccinated earlier, returning for another dose of the vaccine this season will not protect you against this winter’s viruses, Parry said, although he recommends people get re-immunized every year, which “builds your body’s memory bank for future flu strains.”
In the meantime, Parry, like many health professionals, suggests taking basic steps — in addition to washing your hands frequently — to protect yourself from the flu. Considering the speed with which this season’s virus is spreading, some additional precautions are warranted: “Stay away from coughing, sneezing people, and defer from shaking hands with someone if you can’t wash or use antibacterial product soon after,” he said.
And if you do get the flu? “Stay home,” Parry said.