NBCPhiladelphia.com - Monique Braxton
Pennsylvania, New Jersy and Delaware report widespread cases of the flu. There have already been 22 deaths in Pa. and health officials warn this could be the worst flu season in a decade. NBC10's Monique Braxton has details on how one hospital is dealing with the spike in flu cases.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is reporting 18 influenza-related deaths just last week, a big jump from the four deaths that were previously reported. This brings the total number of flu-related deaths in Pennsylvania to 22 this flu season.
A majority of the reported deaths are among those over the age of 65. However, two deaths involved otherwise healthy individuals under the age of 50. No pediatric flu-related deaths have been reported so far this season.
The flu spike isn't just affecting Pennsylvania. Christiana Hospital in Delaware is the latest local hospital forced to expand in light of the early start of flu season.
Officials with the Christiana Care Health System tell NBC10 there has been a consistent increase in flu patients over the past two to three weeks with around a dozen positive flu tests at the lab each day. Christiana Hospital has expanded its emergency room area into a nearby conference room to deal with the increase.
Even with the large number, officials at Christiana say that it’s actually an underestimate of flu cases because not everyone has been tested.
The flu season began earlier than it has in a decade this year. Experts say an early peak might mean an earlier end. However at this point it’s too early to determine that. They also say there is no sign of any decline in flu cases at this time.
The earliest flu reports in Delaware were concentrated in Kent County, according to Dr. Marci Drees, the Christiana Care Health System’s Infection Prevention Officer and Hospital Epidemiologist. Now the reports are consistent in all three Delaware counties however.
Christiana Care also provided the following answers to frequently asked questions about the flu:
Q: If I think I have the flu, do I need to go to my doctor or the Emergency Department?
A: You should only go to the Emergency Department if you need emergency care – such as if you’re having difficulty breathing, are confused, dizzy or lightheaded, or having chest pain. If you have questions or concerns about the flu or any underlying medical problems, you should call your doctor for further instructions.
Q: If I get the flu, do I need antiviral medication?
A: Maybe or maybe not. If you are otherwise healthy, you will likely recover almost as quickly just with symptomatic treatment alone.
Q: Should everybody who gets the flu be treated with antiviral medication?
A: No. If you are otherwise healthy, you will likely recover almost as quickly just with over-the-counter treatment for your symptoms (such as Tylenol for fever/body aches, etc.). Because of concerns about having enough supply of antivirals and of increasing resistance to Tamiflu if a lot of medicine is used, current recommendations are to treat only those severe enough to be hospitalized, or who are at high risk of having severe flu (such as pregnant women, children under 2 years, and those with chronic medical illnesses).