Flu cases, deaths on the rise in Delaware

Flu shots

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Flu cases are on the rise in Delaware, with increases among the young population and elderly deaths.

Delaware flu cases are on the rise, particularly among young people, and there also have been a number of elderly flu-related deaths, according to the Division of Public Health.

“This year’s flu numbers reinforce the unpredictability of influenza,” said Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker.

“Given that we see such wide variation almost every year, taking all the steps to prevent the flu is vital. Getting vaccinated, washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when ill can protect you and your loved ones.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Delaware recently had its fourth and fifth deaths during its flu season, DPH announced Thursday.

During the first week of February, an 86-year-old Kent County man who lived in a nursing home passed away after being transported to the hospital. Last week, a 90-year-old New Castle County man who lived at home also passed away after being transported to the hospital. Both men were infected with Influenza A, according to the DPH.

“I wouldn’t use the word alarmed, but whenever we have an infection out there that’s killing people it is something to be concerned about, which is why we’re encouraging people get your flu shot and if you’re sick stay home, don’t go to work or in congregate settings where you can get other people sick, and instead call your doctor, they can assess you for the flu and call in an anti-viral for you,” said Awele N. Maduka-Ezeh, medical director for the DPH.

The number of flu cases in Delaware is significantly higher this flu season—as of Feb. 11 there were 1,296 lab-confirmed cases, with 263 requiring hospitalization. A large percent of these cases were in New Castle County, with 772 individuals there diagnosed with the flu.

The DPH said these numbers only reflect lab-confirmed cases, and the actual amount of flu cases is likely much higher.

In comparison, this time last year, there were 58 lab-confirmed flu cases statewide, with 10 requiring hospitalization. The 2015 to 2016 flu season saw an abnormally late peak in flu activity, however, with the first flu-related death in March.

Of this year’s cases, 224 of the individuals were 65 or older, and 54 percent of individuals hospitalized for the flu also were over 65. The five individuals who died from the virus this season were elderly with underlying health conditions.

However, 54 percent of all cases this flu season affected individuals 24 and younger, according to the DPH. Maduka-Ezeh said the high numbers among the young age group is typical for this season’s strain, H3N2. The University of Delaware also reports high flu cases among its student body.

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. DPH advises individuals with those symptoms to call, not visit, their medical providers, who may be able to prescribe anti-viral medication.

Seniors and vulnerable populations, including the very young, pregnant women and those who recently gave birth, and those with underlying medical conditions like lung disease, heart disease, diabetes and individuals with weak immune systems should take extra precautions.

The DPH recommends frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and disposing immediately (coughing into the inner elbow is an option when tissues aren’t available), staying home when sick and receiving the anti-flu vaccination.

Maduka-Ezeh said each flu season is different, and it’s difficult to predict how the remainder of this year’s season will pan out. Still, she said it’s not too late to get vaccinated at public health clinics, pharmacies or doctors officers. This particular strain is present in any influenza vaccine available, Maduka-Ezeh said.

“Yes the numbers we’re seeing with regard to the number of cases is higher in the younger age group and numbers were seeing for deaths is in the older age group, but the truth is the more people that get vaccinated the better for all of us, because you might be in your 40s and feel, ‘Well my age group isn’t being affected this year,’ but the thing is you need to get the vaccine not just for yourself but for your loved ones who are elderly and would come to harm if they catch influenza from you,” she said.

DHS recommends the following actions;

If you are receiving treatment in a long-term care facility or in-home care, ask if the staff is vaccinated against the flu and, if not, the staff person should wear a mask at all times.
Visits at home or in a facility should be limited if the visitor is under age 16, or has the flu or is at risk of exposure to the flu. The illness can be transmitted prior to someone showing symptoms.
If you are living with a senior and a family member contracts the flu, keep the two separate as much as possible and ensure everyone in the home follows sanitary precautions.
Wash hands frequently with soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after you cough, sneeze, or touch your face.
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow. Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to six feet.
Stay home when sick and do not return to work or school until 24 hours after a fever is gone.
Ensure all your loved ones are vaccinated against the illness. While this year’s vaccine may offer limited protection against one of the flu strains, it does protect well against the other two to three strains of flu. In addition, the vaccination can help make the illness milder and prevent the illnesses due to the other strains circulating in the community. Vaccines are available from DPH clinics, physicians, pharmacies, and many grocery stores.

Information about where to receive flu vaccinations can be found at  http://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/fluclinics.html.

For more information on influenza prevention, diagnosis and treatment, call the Division of Public Health at 800-282-8672 or visit flu.delaware.gov.

A person who is deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind or speech-disabled can call the DPH phone number above by using TTY services. Dial 7-1-1 or 800-232-5460 to type your conversation to a relay operator, who reads your conversation to a hearing person at DPH.  The relay operator types the hearing person’s spoken words back to the TTY user. To learn more about TTY availability in Delaware, visit http://delawarerelay.com.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal