Flu Epidemic Prompts Change to Hospital Visitor Policy
Still, while the numbers are great, this season's epidemic does not match level of brutal 2009 flu pandemic, doctor says.
If you have not fallen prey this year to the flu or something close to it, consider yourself lucky.
For many, 2012-13 has not been kind when it comes to influenza. For some, it has been downright deadly.
Deaths caused by the flu in 2013 reached epidemic levels late last week, according to a report in the New York Times, but the government-run Center for Disease Control (CDC) said it may have peaked.
Dr. Joel Maslow, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases for Atlantic Health, however, said the answer is not quite so cut-and-dried.
"The answer is 'yes' and 'no,'" he said. "If you look at the CDC website the number of reported cases seems to have peaked. [A] report also showed a decrease [around Christmas,] and then went back up."
Some numbers, Maslow said, are still increasing, including the number of Emergency Room visits and school absentees, which are shaping up to be the most ever this year.
"Whether or not we are seeing a true decrease in the numbers of cases or we're just seeing fewer tested is not clear yet," he said. "My sense is the peak may not have occurred."
Atlantic Health is not taking any chances on whether or not the flu has reached its peak. On Friday, the hospital system enacted restrictions on patient visits at the entirety of Morristown Medical Center (including Goryeb Children's Hospital), Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute and at Overlook Hospital in Summit. Among the restrictions, only two visitors are allowed to see a patient and must be 18 or older.
"We do not want someone to visit if that person or member of their household is sick," said Pam Garretson, public relations manager for Atlantic Health. The hospital system is strongly encouraging hand washing and hand sanitizers, which are accessible throughout all their hospitals. Anyone with known respiratory issues going to the Emergency Department at the hospitals also are being given masks for the duration of the flu epidemic, she said.
"This is all to protect our patients and visitors," said Garretson, who herself was out of work recently when she caught the flu and had a fever for three days. "We just don't know when it's going to start to dwindle down."
Some encouraging news however, Maslow noted, was that while this year seems to have affected more people than in some of the busiest flu seasons of the past, it has been far less brutal than other years, including 2009, the year of the H1N1 pandemic, more commonly known as "swine flu."
"What we are seeing though is a large number of people that are presenting with infections or probable infections," Maslow said. "We're getting overwhelmed by numbers."
Whether the flu is on its way out or hunkering down for a long, painful winter, the CDC said those who have yet to receive a flu shot should still do so, as the current outbreak continues to work its way through the country. The height of flu season is February, according to the CDC. While the CDC said this season's flu vaccine is anywhere between 50 and 70-percent effective, Maslow said that can be the difference between a much longer and uncomfortable--or, potentially dangerous--flu and something not quite as daunting.
"Absolutely get the flu shot," he said. "If not complete protection, it should be partial protection. You should not get as sick."
The vaccine takes on average about two weeks to become effective, however, so, "better to get it sooner than later," Maslow said.
Most pharmacies in the area offer flu vaccines. Check our Directory and call ahead to make sure they are available. Flu vouchers also are available through the Town of Morristown and Walgreen's. Visit the town website to learn more.
Long Valley Patch Editor Jason Koestenblatt contributed to this story.