The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 10, 2013

Flu season arrives early in Central Susquehanna Valley

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — With the flu season getting under way in the Valley, health officials have a grim outlook, even after 2012’s moderate flu season.

“Every year, the influenza virus has various mutations, so what we’re going to get is very unpredictable,” said Dr. Lisa Esolen, systems director of infection control for Geisinger Health System. “So what happened previously isn’t necessarily (indicative) of what’s going to happen in the following year.”

Geisinger Health System has seen 250 positive cases of the flu so far this winter, according to Esolin’s calculations. However, it’s still early in what is traditionally a six-week season, she said.

“It’s just getting started here,” she said.

Evangelical Community Hospital, Lewisburg, also is seeing an early surge of flu cases, said Michelle Lincoln, a registered nurse in infection control.

“We’re seeing an earlier spike at about two or three weeks earlier and climbing steadily,” she said. “Our area is seeing about what we would normally see in a heavy flu season.”

The traditional flu season begins in mid- to late January, but this year, cases started popping up in late December, Lincoln said.

The No. 1 way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated, Esolin said.

“That works between 70 and 85 percent of time,” she said.

Katherine E. Staller, a registered nurse with employee health at Evangelical, agreed.

“The flu vaccine is still a good match,” she said. “Even if you do get the flu, you may get less sick.”

However, Esolin said people also should avoid contact with sick individuals and wash their hands frequently to reduce the risk of catching the flu.

When people come down with the flu, the first thing they should do is contact their primary-care doctors, she said.

“Their physician can give them advice about whether they have other medical problems that could lead to a severe case,” she said.

Groups with a high risk of catching a severe case of the flu include young children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses, Lincoln said.

In general, cases that may lead to hospitalization or require further treatment are when patients are unable to keep down fluids or catch their breath, Esolin said.

For others, it’s best to stay home and treat the illness, Staller said.

“With the flu, it comes on rather gradually,” she said. “When (someone has) the classic symptoms ... they should stay home and not risk infecting others.”