Health officials urge vigilance during severe flu season

Influenza mostly affecting the elderly, children in Colorado

January 23, 2018

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO –There have been 22 hospitalizations in Garfield County this flu season, with 64 percent occurring within the past three weeks. The current influenza season is shaping up nationwide to be one of the most active and potentially deadly in recent years. Federal, state, and local health agencies are urging citizens to be vigilant and take precautions to protect themselves against the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting widespread flu activity in all states other than Hawaii. The CDC reports that, nationwide, there have been 30 pediatric deaths associated with flu as of Jan. 13. A child in El Paso County died earlier this flu season in Colorado. The 2017-2018 flu season, which began Oct. 1, is expected to end in late May.

“Across Colorado and our nation, we are seeing high hospitalization rates from influenza,” said Yvonne Long, Garfield County public health director. “There are some critical things you can do to reduce your chances of contracting the flu. We are stressing that it is not too late to get your flu vaccine. In addition to being your best defense against getting the flu, the vaccine may help in lessening the severity of your illness, should you still contract the virus.”

According to the CDC, it is imperative to frequently wash your hands and remain home if you feel ill. The agency recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the “first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.”

This season’s influenza strains are having the most significant impacts on the elderly and young children. In Colorado, there have been 2,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, which is double what is typically reported this time of year, according to Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). He noted that influenza outbreaks are occurring at four times more than the average in 2017-’18, and most of these outbreaks are taking place within assisted living and nursing home facilities.

The increase in hospitalizations has placed a strain on some western Colorado and Front Range hospitals. The state has activated the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response, due to shortages of hospital beds, intravenous (IV) fluids and antivirals caused by increased demand. Colorado hospitals are operating under memorandums of understanding with CDPHE to locate and share available resources.

Stacey Gavrell, Valley View Hospital chief community relations officer, said Valley View is communicating daily with other regional hospitals, and is asking people with flu or flu-like symptoms not to visit the hospital, unless they are seeking treatment.

“We have done our own readiness assessment and our staff are taking extra precautions to help protect our patients,” she said. “We also have modified visitation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of our Family Birthplace [center]. We have a process of internal surveillance, in case there is an increase in flu cases at Valley View Hospital.”

On Jan. 17, state public health directors from Colorado, Rhode Island and California held a conference call to discuss this year’s deadly flu season. Officials addressed what individuals can do to protect themselves and their families from this public health threat. During the call, which was convened by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), experts also discussed the potential impacts of IV nutrient and saline solutions shortages.

The predominant flu strain this season is H3N2, which has been associated in the past with a greater amount of hospitalizations and deaths in people aged 65 years and older, and in young children, compared to other age groups, according to a CDC report.

“If you have symptoms consistent with the flu, call your primary care provider to determine your best course of action,” Long said. “If your symptoms are less severe, they may determine it is best for you to recover at home or be seen in your primary clinic location. This may help to keep emergency room wait times down for patients with urgent and severe symptoms.”