HealthCheck

Flu continues to hold U.S. in its grip

Thursday, January 10, 2013

As if the flu and flu-like illnesses weren't enough, Philadelphia health officials say the norovirus stomach bug is becoming a big problem.

The Philadelphia Health Department has issued an advisory, noting that hospital E-R visits have risen steadily over the past few weeks. And purchases of over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications and electrolyte solutions, such as PediaLyte.

In addition, there have been outbreaks of the fast-moving, highly contagious virus at 5 long-term care facilities in the city.

As for influenza, hospital emergency rooms remain crowded with those hit by the virus.

Lehigh Valley Hospital says it treated 5-10 people in the surge tent it erected in the parking lot of the Cedar Crest campus.

The hospital has also set aside units within its 17th Street and Muhlenberg campuses for flu patients.

The numbers of people passing through Lehigh Valley and other local hospitals remains high.

At St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, doctors report a lot of flu, with some norovirus cases.

This year's outbreak is 2-3 weeks earlier than a typical season, though it is running almost identical to the 2003-2004 season, the last big year for A-type strains. Those tend to be more aggressive, making people sicker.

In Pennsylvania, there have been 22 flu-related deaths thus far this year, compared to 11 for all of last year. 18 of those deaths were last week.

The Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Allentown areas continue to be the epicenters for the flu in the Keystone State.

In Montgomery County, there are 559 lab-confirmed cases this season, compared to 125 for all of last year.

And we're not alone in our misery.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino has declared a public health emergency, there because the city has 700 confirmed cases of the flu and four flu-related deaths.

One hospital has a special flu unit open, and health centers there are offering free vaccines to anyone who hasn't gotten a flu shot yet.

Meanwhile, in Texas, relatives of a 17-year-old boy who died from complications from the flu says the boy's death has change their views on the flu vaccine.

Michelle Schwollert says, "I'm the first one to say, 'my family doesn't get the flu shot,' but we will, and we will advocate that from now on."

Not everyone with flu needs a trip to the hospital or doctor.

If you are sick, with a fever, cough, body aches, congestion, if you are relatively healthy, you can manage symptoms at home.

*Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and body aches

*A decongestant

* Drink plenty of fluids

* Rest

However if symptoms are severe or if the sick person is a child, the elderly, pregnant women or anyone with chronic medical problems, you should see a healthcare provider. You may be able to get a an antiviral, which can help you recover quicker if it is given in time.

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