LEWISTOWN - Lewistown Hospital has seen a dramatic increase in confirmed cases of influenza since the new year began, said Lisa Krapps, manager of infection control at Lewistown Hospital.
There have been 27 confirmed flu cases since Jan. 1, including 24 cases of Type A and three cases of Type B, Krapps said. This compares to the 25 total cases of flu documented in December, she added.
"We began to see more instances of the flu around Dec. 12 and it has continued to escalate from there," Krapps said. "It's important to note, as well, that these numbers only include people tested at the hospital. There's no way to account for the people who don't see a doctor while having the flu."
The flu is transmitted through respiratory droplets that travel in the air when people cough, sneeze or talk, said Dr. Raselette Hunt, family medicine physician at Geisinger-Lewistown. In other cases, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose, she added.
"We certainly have seen an increase in visits from patients with cough, chills, fever and headache recently," Hunt said. "It's important to take preventative measures and take care of yourself."
Because of the way the flu is transmitted the risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas like schools, buses, crowded urban settings and hospitals, said Keria Meals, communication coordinator at Lewistown Hospital.
Lewistown Hospital officials are asking people with flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough or runny nose to refrain from visiting patients, Meals said. Additionally, all patients with flu-like symptoms coming to the emergency room or other outpatient areas should wear a mask while at the hospital.
Disposable masks and hand sanitizers will be available in waiting rooms and nursing stations throughout the hospital, Meals added.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that there has been a dramatic and widespread increase in flu activity across the state since November. In total, 11,327 lab positive cases have been reported since October, including the 4,256 cases reported from Dec. 30 to Jan. 5, states the Department of Health website.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the best way to prevent the flu is to get the seasonal flu vaccine each year which protects against the three influenza viruses that research suggests are most common. However, the flu vaccine will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.
The Department of Health also recommends carrying hand sanitizer, maintaining a healthy diet, keeping a regular sleep schedule and dressing appropriately for the weather.