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The Suburbanite
  • Flu cases on rise; medication plentiful

  • The significant spike in the number of Stark County residents getting the flu continues filling area hospital beds and emergency rooms and is sparking shortages of the influenza vaccine at some pharmacies.

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  • The significant spike in the number of Stark County residents getting the flu continues filling area hospital beds and emergency rooms and is sparking shortages of the influenza vaccine at some pharmacies.
    But hospital and health officials say while the flu cases may be straining local resources, they have not overwhelmed them.
    They say supplies of the antiviral medication Tamiflu are plentiful. They’ve seen no indications of a communitywide shortage of flu shots.
    And while Mercy Medical Center has admitted more than 100 patients with complications related to influenza, it says it’s had enough beds so it hasn’t had to transfer patients elsewhere.
    And school districts such as Canton City and Plain Local say they haven’t had high absenteeism.
    NATIONAL OUTBREAK
    More than 220 Stark County residents were hospitalized for flu-like symptoms between Oct. 1 and Friday, according to the Canton City Health Department. There were only three during the same period last year and 32 the prior year.
    The agency said the number of hospitalizations jumped to 70 or more a week the last week of 2012 and first week of 2013 from less than 30 during the next-to-last week of December.
    At least three of the 222 patients died, but they also had other medical conditions. Two were elderly; one was an adult between ages 25 and 65.
    Ohio is among the 47 states reporting “widespread” flu activity amid a national outbreak, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    Christina Henning, the Canton Health department’s epidemiologist, said it may take another week before she knows whether the outbreak has peaked.
    “We’ve seen more Type B influenza this season than the last four seasons combined,” she said.
    Henning said because some pharmacies underestimated the number of flu shots they would need, some have shortages. Because it takes six months to make the vaccines, it can be difficult to get more. Calls by the health department to about a dozen locations revealed that some Walgreens have a limited supply, but others such as CVS and Rite Aid seem to have a sufficient number of vaccines, she said.
    Walgreens issued a statement that said, “select locations may currently be experiencing shortages in supply of flu vaccine. We are continually working and able to distribute vaccines to stores that may be impacted in a timely manner.”
    ER FILLING UP
    Mercy Medical Center said between Dec. 10 and Jan. 10, it’s had 1,457 people — more than one in five patients — visit its emergency room complaining of flu-like symptoms, which can include coughing, a fever over 100 degrees, headache, sore throat, body aches, chills or fatigue. The year before, the number was near zero. Its StatCare locations have also been crowded with flu patients.
    Page 2 of 2 - About 100 had symptoms that warranted an overnight hospital stay.
    Dr. Margaret Kobe, chairwoman of Infection Control & Prevention at Mercy, said these patients were experiencing dehydration, an inadequate amount of oxygen in their body tissues, unusual blood pressure flow or an inability to eat or drink. Some developed pneumonia or staph infections.
    Richard Lyon, the infection control coordinator for Mercy, said during the past three weeks between 12 to 17 patients have been in isolation where anyone entering the unit had to wear a mask.
    “It has been very, very busy for us,” he said. “Our bed capacity has been tight, but we’ve been able to make sure that anyone who needs to be admitted, we’ve been able to take care of it so far.”
    Mercy, which has more than 300 beds, said it has sufficient flu vaccines for its patients. About 90 percent of all hospital staff have been vaccinated, said Lyon, with many wearing masks and being diligent about hand washing.
    Kobe said Mercy along with other hospitals has restricted the number of visitors under the age of 14 because children are less likely than adults to show flu symptoms early during an infection.
    IN GOOD SHAPE
    Steve Sappman, the owner of Davies Drugs in Canton, said because he uses several different suppliers, as of Friday morning, he had more than 120 doses of the flu vaccine. Doctors’ offices, nursing homes and even some drug store chains that are running low are calling him to purchase some of his stock. Davies had 36 bottles of the oral suspension version of Tamiflu on hand, and demand for the medication has been high.
    He said that Tamiflu can shorten the course of the illness by a day or two or help prevent infection.
    Health officials are urging people to get flu vaccinations, which can take two weeks to reach their peak effectiveness. They say while getting the shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick, if you do they can alleviate symptoms and prevent life-threatening complications.
    “It’s still important to get vaccinated because they feel we haven’t hit the peak of the season,” Lyon said.