Flu outbreak expected in Portage

By Heather Condley Record-Courier staff writer Published:

While some Ohio hospitals have had to restrict admission to new patients because of a recent influenza outbreak, local healthcare officials say the epidemic hasn't yet hit this area, but is more than likely on its way. In fact, most area hospitals and clinics say admissions and complaints of flu-like symptoms haven't been any higher than normal for this time of year. "Our patient volume total is 156. That's not any different than last year," said Heather Phillips, public relations manager at Robinson Memorial Hospital. The hospital has 285 beds. Beth Young, infection control coordinator at the hospital, said while numbers are normal now, there is no telling what next week may bring. "We may get it a little later," she said. "But right now we're not on any alert or anything. I think we're coping well." Amanda Balika, a spokeswoman for Summa Health Systems in Akron said they are not seeing many flu cases either. "We're not hitting that season yet," she said. "Hopefully we won't, but I think we'll all see it when it comes down." A spokesman at MED Center, 3913 Darrow Road, Stow said while the center has been busy, it is hard to tell whether the numbers of patients complaining of flu-like symptoms are higher this year. He said it doesn't seem as though the clinic is seeing a huge rush of flu cases. Officials at Akron General Hospital, however, are reporting a larger number of patients being admitted to the hospital, although not all are for flu symptoms. The hospital has 511 registered beds, but spokesman Joe Jerick said he is unaware how many of those beds are occupied. "We are at peak patient volume, which is pretty high," Jerick said. "We opened an additional patient unit so the quality of our patient care is not affected by this in any way." Dr. Daniel Schelble, emergency department chairman at Akron General said so far the Akron area doesn't seem to have been hit as hard as Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, but the outbreak will probably come soon. "We haven't seen (the flu outbreak) as early (this year) as we did last year. Last year it was late December that we were well into the flu season," he said. "I suspect that is because students have recently gone back to school. What happens is that the kids go to school and bring the bug home. Historically _ and I've been here for 22 years _ once the kids get back to school, within seven to 10 days, we'll see it." Schelble said the emergency room has seen a slight increase of people coming in for flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, headache, sore throat, diarrhea and vomiting. So far there have been eight admissions through the emergency room for the flu when usually there are three to five, he said. Several Cincinnati hospitals had to divert patients to other hospitals last week and early this week. Jewish Hospital, Mercy Hospital Anderson and Franciscan Hospital's Western Hills campus said they were diverting patients to other hospitals for up to 12 hours in several instances. "It has been amazing the number of patients and the severity of illness that we've seen," said . "It's definitely worse than the last couple of years." But, Dr. Robert Salata, who tracks influenza cases for University Hospitals of Cleveland said unusually warm weather may have meant fewer people spending time in crowded indoor spaces, which could have reduced the close contact that spreads the flu virus. One reason why area hospitals may not be seeing the rush other hospitals are experiencing could be because of more aggressive vaccinations programs this year. During the fall, when most people should be vaccinated, Robinson Memorial offered flu shots to many people, including all patients who were being released from the hospital and the hospital's homebound patients, Young said. "It seems like we worked very hard this year," she said. "Hopefully we'll reap the benefits of that preventative measure. We'll just have to see what happens in the next few weeks." But Schelble said he noticed that many of the people being seen by doctors have had the shot and are still getting ill. "You try to plan ahead on which of the hundred viruses are coming our way. Unfortunately, you can't vaccinate people for 120 different viruses," he said, adding that this year, the two most common types of flu seen so far in this area are Influenza A and Influenza A Nanchang. But Young said the vaccination isn't a guarantee that you won't get the flu, but often times it will help lessen the severity of it. This year's flu is causing aches, pains and breathing problems that last 10 to 14 days instead of the typical seven days, said. Dr. Rodney Hochman, an internal medicine specialist and a senior executive officer for the Health Alliance, a group of Cincinnati hospitals. Nancy Mercer, a registered nurse and manager of preventive health for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, said the best thing people can do is take a common sense approach. "The virus is spread person to person. So the best thing is to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth and to wash hands frequently," she said. If you do get sick, it is important to know when to go to the doctor and when not to. "If you have a temperature greater than 102 or are having respiratory difficulties, not just a cough but shortness of breath," Schelble said. Most of the people who are hospitalized for influenza are people who already have respiratory problems, Young said.

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