Hospitals have begun banning children under the age of 13 from visiting patients to try to stop the spread of a deadly and virulent flu which has claimed the lives of 100 people across the country.
The Beaumont Health System has banned children from visiting patients in its hospitals except for in special circumstances and no children under the age of 12 are allowed in the intensive care unit for newborns at the Henry Ford Health System.
Staff hope it will do something to stop the fast spread of the influenza.
Doctors are urging people across the country to get vaccinated if they have not already.
To date, 20 children and adults across the US have died this season as a result of the deadly H3N2.
Seven more American children died of the flu this week alone.
In a press release on Friday, Beaumont Health Hospitals said: ‘All Beaumont Health hospitals are experiencing high volumes of patients with respiratory viral illnesses, predominantly influenza.
‘For the safety of our patients and staff, visitation by children under 13 years of age is limited to extraordinary circumstances, such as severe illness of a parent or sibling, or end-of-life situation.’
This graph, released on Friday by the CDC, shows the rate of hospitalizations per flu season. This year (in red) appears to be surging higher than the deadly 2014/15 year, but experts warn this could slope down in the same way
Dr. Christopher Carpenter of the Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital, echoed the hospital’s warning.
‘You’re coming into a place where people are already ill, and they could end up in worse shape if they also get the flu,’ he told The Detroit Free Press.
While this year’s epidemic is still shy of the devastating death toll seen in 2014/2015, officials warn the rate of cases is severe, and this season looks set to be the second-worst on record.
The deadly H3N2 virus is now widespread in more than 46 states, and the rate of cases is quadruple that of previous years, and hospitalizations have doubled in the last week as the outbreak reaches its ‘peak’.
Uniquely, this year baby boomers appear to be as vulnerable to the virus as the usual victims – infants and the elderly.
Unveiling the sobering statistics on Friday morning, CDC officials insisted it is not too late to get the flu shot, despite evidence that this year’s vaccine is only 30 percent effective against H3N2.
In fact, Dr Daniel Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division at the CDC, says the vaccine could be even more valuable now, since it is more effective against strains which are only just emerging now – including the H1N1 strain and various B viruses.
‘Flu seasons every year are bad but this season is on the severe side,’ Dr Jernigan said on Friday.
‘There’s still a long way to go, there’s at least 11 to 13 more weeks of flu to go, there are strains still to show up. B viruses show up later in the season, and we are also seeing H1N1 show up in states that have already had H3 activity. It’s therefore a good reason to get vaccinated if you haven’t.’
According to Dr Jernigan, the flu is not expected to be as devastating to the US as it was to Australia, where vaccination rates are lower and the general population is older.
Indeed, patient traffic for flu is no longer skyrocketing the way it was in December.
‘It looks like it’s starting to level out,’ said the CDC’s Lynnette Brammer, who oversees flu tracking.
Many flu seasons don’t really get going until around Christmas, and don’t crescendo until February. That’s how last year’s flu season played out. This season got off to an early start and cases surged over the holidays.
Nonetheless, Dr Jernigan said the CDC is concerned about controlling the virus which has sickened and killed both vulnerable (the very young and very old) as well as people with stronger immune systems in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Patients who went to the ER at Palomar Medical Center Escondido, north of San Diego, then had to wait as long as nine hours. The hospital this week took down a tent it used to handle the overflow but is still seeing a lot of patients with fevers, aches, chills and other flu symptoms.
‘We’re having to treat people in hallways, in chairs, wherever we have space,’ said Michelle Gunnett, the director of emergency services.
There’s a tent in place at Kaweah Delta Medical Center in the Central California city of Visalia, where doctors this week have been pulling double and triple shifts to keep up.
‘It’s like a MASH unit,’ said Dr. Ed Hirsch, the hospital’s chief medical officer.
In Chicago, paramedics have been forced to wait at ERs with patients for as long as two hours for an open spot. That means the ambulances can’t be used for other calls, said Larry Langford, a spokesman for the city’s fire department.
A pressing matter is the shortage of antiviral medications in states with particularly severe outbreaks – despite the fact that there is more medication available for pharmacies than ever before, since many generic versions have been approved this year.
Dr Jernigan said the issue largely boils down to pharmacies not being aware of all the manufacturers producing these medications, meaning their stock is more limited than necessary.
To conclude, he urged people to follow the ‘sound advice of your mother’: cover your mouth, wash your hands, and stay warm.
WHAT ARE THE FLU STRAINS HITTING THE US THIS YEAR?
There are many different types of flu circulating around the world, but four main types are being seen, or are set to emerge, in America this winter.
H3N2 – Dubbed ‘Aussie flu’ after it struck Australia hard last winter, this strain is more likely to affect the elderly, who do not respond well to the current vaccine. This is one of the most common strains seen so far this winter.
H1N1 – This strain – known as ‘swine flu’ – is generally more likely to hit children, who respond well to vaccination. This has been seen nearly as often as H3N2 so far this year. In the past it was only commonly caught from pigs, but that changed in 2009 when it started spreading rapidly among humans in a major global pandemic.
B / Yamagata – This is known as ‘Japanese flu’. Only people who received the ‘four strain’ vaccine – which is being slowly rolled out after it was introduced for the first time this winter – are protected against the Yamagata strain. Those who received the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine are not protected.
B / Victoria – This strain is vaccinated against in the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine, but has hardly appeared so far this winter, with just four confirmed cases.