(March 8, 2019) Patients continue to seek medical treatment for the flu at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, as the season coughs, hacks and wheezes its way to its usual conclusion a few weeks from now.

Although the flu season typically lasts from November to March, it can stretch into May, depending on the strain of virus making the rounds.

Madelyn Justice

Madelyn Justice, a physician's assistant at Atlantic General Hospital

“It could extend the season, so it’s always a differential that’s on our mind that we’re looking for,” said Madelyn Justice, a physician’s assistant working in Atlantic General Hospital.

“Within the last month, it’s kind of slowed down or steadied out, plateaued-wise,” Justice said. “But we’re seeing more patients that are not vaccinated coming in with more severe cases.

Twenty-nine flu-related deaths were reported in Maryland, with one being a pediatric patient, according to the state’s department of health. Altogether, 1,305 people were hospitalized.

According to the Maryland Department of Health’s weekly influenza report, an influenza-like illness across the state for the week ending on Feb. 23. 

Locally, 249 Flu A patients and 17 Flu B sufferers were seen at AGH as of last Thursday afternoon, according to officials. Of those cases, 10 were admitted.

Nicole Morris, RN, manager of infection control and employee health for Atlantic General Hospital and health system, said those admissions were primarily in the last couple weeks. 

Nicole Morris

Nicole Morris, RN, manager of infection control and employee health for Atlantic General Hospital and health system.

Last year’s flu season was “one of the longest in recent years,” according to the CDC, and 456 cases Morris said were reported for 2017-18 at AGH, show how bad it was here, as well. But this year appears to be less extreme, she said.

 “I think it’ll be less actually,” Morris said. “I really do.” She went onto say this year’s flu season was supposed to be “biphasic,” meaning it was expected to come in two waves. “But we didn’t really get on the first wave,” she said. 

Justice agreed and said she believes the rest of the 2018-19 flu season will “still be steady,” as weather, close quarters and kids being in school remain factors.

Morris added sometimes it’s a combination of bad luck and bad timing. “Sometimes it’s unavoidable,” Morris said. “When someone sneezes, say you’re at the Food Lion and someone sneezes, that droplet can go six feet.

When asked how the hospital prepares for flu season, Morris said “we[‘ll] continue to do what we’re doing now.” There are signs around the hospital to remind people to wash their hands, as well as stations with hand sanitizer, masks and tissues. 

Morris added a suggested flu visitation policy went into effect last week. It encourages children, pregnant women and the elderly not to visit people in the hospital. The policy will stand until administrators feel they see a decrease of flu-related cases.

“We didn’t really start seeing a big influx until this past weekend,” Morris said.

Morris said the hospital has given roughly 3,500 influenza vaccinations to members of the community this year, but stressed the statistics would change as people continue to receive them. 

“So the number one way to prevent getting the flu is through vaccination,” Justice said. “We usually see those who do get the vaccine tend to have a less severe reaction, as well as not having as many complications.”

Justice said there’s a big misconception with the vaccine: getting a flu vaccination doesn’t mean getting the flu.

“It is not a live strain in the vaccine so anyone getting flu like symptoms is usually a mounting response to the vaccine, which is a positive reaction, something that we look for,” Justice said. “That you’re creating those antibodies toward the actual virus.”

When a person does get the flu, however, it’s almost immediate.

“With the flu, it’s sudden,” Morris said. “Yeah, you’ll be sitting here feeling fine, and in about an hour your body aches, you can develop the fever and of course the cough that goes along with it.”

When asked about treatment, Morris said it’s about treating the symptoms. She recommended taking Tylenol for a fever and staying hydrated.

“You need to stay away from people, especially compromised people,” Morris said. “Because you know it hits them harder than someone who has a normal generalized healthy immunity.”

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