ELKHART — Local hospitals have noticed an increase in flu patients over the past few weeks.
The strain going around is H1N1 — the “swine flu” that caused a pandemic in 2009.
“We don’t want to scare people,” Dawn Wilkins, infection prevention nurse at Elkhart General Hospital, said Thursday, Jan. 2. “But we do want people to be concerned.”
The St. Joseph County Health Department reported Thursday that a 25-year-old woman had died from the H1N1 virus.
Dr. Thomas Felger, St. Joseph County health officer, said the woman had been hospitalized locally before being transferred to a Chicago hospital, where she died. He said hospitals don’t usually report flu cases to the local health department, but he has seen “a definite increase” in the number of flu cases in St. Joseph County since last week.
The increase in flu patients at IU Health Goshen started about two weeks ago, while Elkhart General noted an uptick about 10 days ago.
At IU Health Goshen, twice as many people were hospitalized with the flu in December 2013 than that same month the previous year, according to spokeswoman Melanie McDonald.
She said that hospital staff is keeping a close eye on the flu situation and that people experiencing symptoms — like a high fever, chills, sore throat or body aches — should take them seriously.
“The flu has become a generic term in many people’s minds for a bad cold,” McDonald said. “And it’s so much more than that. In fact, people die every year from the flu. People require intensive care.”
Wilkins said that those being hospitalized now are primarily young or middle-age adults. That’s the age group that’s most likely to be hit by the H1N1 virus, according to a recent health alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This age group of people who is getting the flu, they are spiking really high temps — and when they get the flu they get it hard and fast,” Wilkins noted.
So when does the flu mean hospitalization, and when does it mean hitting the couch for a few days with a box of tissues?
Wilkins said that most flu patients who are admitted to the hospital need fluids, rest and medication. They are typically released after a few days. She said that adolescents tend to be able to recover well at home, while the flu may take a rougher toll on middle-age adults.
If flu symptoms get linger or get worse, it’s best to see a doctor, advises Marti Whalen, supervisor of communicable diseases for the Elkhart County Health Department.
“Doctors can give an anti-viral medication that can make a difference within 48 hours,” Whalen said.
She said that hospital staff may be noticing what is simply the peak of a typical flu season.
“We have no more concern this year than in any other year,” she said, while pointing out that the virus is targeting more younger adults this year.
Whalen said that there have been no flu-related deaths in Elkhart County during the 2013-14 season.