Flu puts area hospitals on alert

Worsening early influenza season has many medical providers stocking up on vaccines

ckrotzer@theolympian.comJanuary 26, 2013 

An early flu season has Thurston County pharmacies and medical centers ordering more influenza vaccines, while emergency rooms are seeing a rise of patients suffering from coughing, runny nose and fever.

Clinics are doing their best to help those suffering from the flu or flu symptoms, while also keeping the rest of their patients safe from the potential spread of the illness.

Hand sanitizer, masks and tissues are at the doors of both Capital Medical Center and Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

Flu season began in October and has resulted in a handful of hospitalizations and deaths statewide, Thurston County health officer Dr. Diana Yu said.

None of those occurred in Thurston County.

“We know it’s out in the community, and unfortunately it’s starting to hit some of the nursing homes, and that is when we start seeing hospitalizations because the elderly have more complications with influenza,” Yu said.

Providence began seeing a spike in the number of flu patients in January. About 11 percent of those who walked through the emergency room door were suffering from flu symptoms, said Jill Cooper, vice president of quality.

Just because the season began early does not mean it will end early, Yu said. The state could be in for a long flu season, with another peak as late as March.

Group Health Olympia Medical Center has given out 20,565 flu shots this season, the most of any clinic belonging to Group Health, said spokeswoman Katie McCarthy.

The second-highest flu shot numbers came from the clinic’s Seattle Northgate Medical Center office, with 14,042. All clinics combined have provided 175,024 vaccines to date.

Group Health averaged 5,000 vaccines per day across its 25 medical centers in the state in 2012. There are now between 1,000 and 2,000 vaccines being given daily this season.

McCarthy attributed the high number of vaccines to the Olympia clinic’s staff.

“Everyone in the clinic, from the people at the front desk to the people on the phone and more, are asking patients if they got their flu vaccine,” McCarthy said. “They are also set up to give a shot wherever in the clinic, so no need to go to a special room or make an appointment.”

Some of the clinic’s nurses make house calls to provide the vaccine to home-bound patients.

Group Health has about 3,000 vaccines left for all 25 clinics.

The nurses at Sea Mar Community Clinic off Limited Way on Olympia’s west side have had to order more vaccines this season.

They had unused vaccines that had to be returned in 2012.

“We have gone through a lot of the vaccines,” said Angie Stippich, nurse manager. “We’ve had to order more than standard.”

The clinic only had 10 doses left of a recent order and put in for an additional 100 doses, Stippich said Thursday.

“I think everybody is staying on top of getting their flu vaccines,” Stippich said.

Not everyone is coming in for a shot. Others are coming in because they already have the flu.

“It was evident right after the holidays that the numbers were going up,” Cooper said.

Two flu patients were treated at Providence in October, eight in November, 41 in December and 59 this month.

About 6 percent of the patients going through Capital Medical Center’s doors are suffering from the flu, said Karen Pitman, infection-prevention nurse.

The hospitals have implemented their pandemic plans and are functioning at a stage 2 level, which requires staffers who have not had a flu shot to wear a mask while at work, daily monitoring of patients suffering from flu symptoms and increased public awareness.

Stage 3 would involve staffers monitoring the entrances to the hospital, restricting visits and requiring masks, similar to what was seen during the H1N1 swine flu virus in 2010, said Providence spokesman Chris Thompson.

“Although we encourage people to visit their loved ones, if they are actively sick … consider when would be the best time to visit their loved ones here,” Pitman said. “We don’t want them to spread anything to our patients.”

The flu isn’t the only virus going around, Yu said.

Many people going to the hospital or doctor’s office complaining of what they think is the flu have what turns out to be a stomach bug nicknamed the cruise ship virus.

“There are a lot of other bugs going around, like this particularly nasty vomiting and diarrhea bug,” Yu said. “The flu does not give you vomiting and diarrhea.”

ONLINE

For more information about the flu, or to find out where to get a flu shot, go to www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/personalhealth/influenza/index.html.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 ckrotzer@theolympian.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer

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