From September in 1918 to the late spring of 1919, the word “influenza” struck an almost paralyzing fear in the hearts of people as the deadly virus swept across the world. Inappropriately named the “Spanish flu”, the virus struck previously healthy people from the ages of 20 to 40 years old. Some victims died within hours of showing symptoms while others lasted a few days only to pass away, their fluid filled lungs causing them to suffocate.
Scientists could not identify the cause. They would not be able to actually see viruses until the 1930s when the electron microscope was invented. Likewise, doctors had virtually no tools at their disposal to use. A vaccine against influenza and penicillin were still 25 years away from being developed, approved and generally available for use with the public.
By the time those hellish months had passed and the pandemic had run its course, an estimated 500 million people—one third of the world’s population--had been infected by the virus, and 50 million had lost their lives.
It’s difficult in this day and age to accurately imagine the terror people must have experienced a century ago as few of us, if any, have experience with anything even close to resembling that kind of loss of life. Consequently, many people tend to view “flu season” as more of an annoyance than a serious threat to health. But the majority of officials, from scientists to health department officials to health care providers, repeatedly warn us to not take an outbreak of the flu lightly.
Nationwide, the 2018-2019 flu season has been less active than 2017-2018 but is still relatively severe. As of the end of the week of January 19th, there were 11 million reported cases of flu illness resulting in 5.4 million medical visits and 136,000 flu hospitalizations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 3 new pediatric deaths, bringing the total to 22. A total of 36 states report widespread flu activity, and entire school districts have been closed for at least a day in twelve different states. Unfortunately, these numbers have been on a steady increase for several weeks.
As it stands right now, Colorado is one of the 36 states identified as having a widespread outbreak of the flu. It should be noted that these figures are based on the reported number of people who have been hospitalized with the flu; officials do not track non-hospitalized cases of influenza in our corner of the state.
With that in mind, the most recent data collected by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) shows that there have been 1,394 people hospitalized with influenza in Colorado since September. The highest hospitalization rate is among people aged 0-4 years old. The predominating strain is Influenza A (H1N1), and there have been outbreaks associated with influenza in 18 long term care facilities. There has also been one pediatric death associated with Influenza A (H1N1), and that occurred during the week of January 12th.
In terms of county-specific flu hospitalization data for the 2018-2019 flu season thus far, Otero, Pueblo, Chaffee and Denver Counties rank the highest in the state.
Megan Hillman, PA and Director of Prowers County Public Health and Environment and Kiowa County Public Health, offers the following suggestion. “The most important advice is for people to get their flu shot”, she says (indicating that no, it’s not too late), “and to stay home if they are ill so that they don’t pass this very contagious virus to other people.”
Closer to home, Jessica Hyman, FNP at KCHD Eads Medical Center, states that, although no patients have been hospitalized to this point, health care providers “have seen an increase in the number of patients coming to the clinic with symptoms of Influenza A over the past several weeks”. In other words, influenza is still very active in the area.
Symptoms of Influenza A can include running a fever, body aches, cough, sore throat and, in some cases, diarrhea. Hyman advises anyone displaying these symptoms to make an appointment as soon as possible with their health care provider so that, if appropriate, the individual can take Tamiflu, an anti-viral that can lessen the symptoms of the virus. Expediency is recommended since Tamiflu is only effective within two days of the patient displaying symptoms. If someone has the virus, Hyman also strongly recommends that he or she stay home and make certain to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
After several patients and staff at Weisbrod came down with the virus, providers with KCHD followed their own advice and issued visitor restrictions for the hospital starting on January 21st. Basically, they cancelled outside activities and requested that anyone coming to the hospital wear a mask. Barring more people testing positive for the virus, those restrictions should hopefully be lifted at the end of this week.
Megan Hillman states that flu season typically starts in December and lasts through March. However, that period of activity may be extended into May depending upon the strain of influenza and the number of people who were vaccinated in a community.
Anyone with questions or concerns should contact Eads Medical Clinic at 719-438-2251. The clinic is open Monday through Friday, 7:30am to 6:00pm and Saturday, 9:00am to 1:00pm