Flu conditions improve in Suffolk

Published 10:38 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Suffolk this week is seeing some abatement of an influenza epidemic that hit during December, but area hospitals are still seeing lots of cases, health officials say.

Emergency department volumes at Sentara Obici Hospital and, in North Suffolk, Sentara BelleHarbour, have reportedly eased compared to two weeks ago.

“Emergency department volumes have leveled off some compared to the end (of) December/beginning (of) January,” Sentara spokeswoman Cheri Hinshelwood wrote in an email.

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“Emergency department volumes at BelleHarbour are hovering around 100 patients per day, versus 120 per day” two weeks ago. “That’s all patients and not just flu patients. The emergency department at Sentara Obici saw 133 patients yesterday.”

The proportion of patients infected with influenza or what doctors call “lookalike influenza” is unchanged from reports last Tuesday of 8.8 percent at Obici and 17 percent at BelleHarbour, according to Hinshelwood.

Meanwhile, a measure introduced last week strongly recommending all visitors wear medical masks is having the desired effect, said Brian Kearns, medical director of Obici’s emergency department.

The measure is in effect at Sentara, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, Riverside and Bon Secours, which operates North Suffolk’s Health Center at Harbour View, along with many other Hampton Roads health care facilities.

“It seems to have been a success,” Kearns said, adding that the measure would remain in place throughout the flu season, which could potentially last several more weeks.

“I think the measure does help to control the transmission of the virus from person to person.”

No age group has been spared the influenza and its nasty symptoms ranging from coughs and congestion to headaches, fever, nausea and body aches. But the young, the old and the chronically ill, especially those with lung conditions, are more at risk, Kearns said.

“The vast majority of people do recover without any complications, but there are occasional cases with complications that can potentially be dangerous,” he said. “But that’s rare.”

For those who aren’t already, there’s still time to be immunized, according to Kearns. “The benefit may be less than it could have been if they were vaccinated earlier, but there is still some benefit to gain from being vaccinated now,” he said.

Kearns advised the flu-infected to stay at home and away from others, if they are not from a high-risk group. But he suggested that the elderly, young or chronically ill should be medically evaluated as soon as symptoms develop.