Philadelphia health officials say the flu has hit earlier than usual this year.
And, compared with mild seasons in the recent past, this one feels like a doozy.
It has some parents in the area adopting a form of self-imposed quarantine to keep their families healthy.
Fairmount mom Mercury Amodio seems to pride herself on not being a Purell-touting germaphobe.
“I’m like, oh the bagel fell on the floor, ah, pick it up, blow it off, eat it, it’s not a big deal,” Amodio laughs.
But this flu season, the pregnant mother of a 2-year-old grudgingly admits she and her husband are avoiding places they see as harboring germs.
“So, say like a bookstore that has a kids’ play area with Legos or something,” Amodio said. “We are trying to stay away from those things.
Another favorite on the no-go list?
“We are avoiding Please Touch until flu season is over,” she said. “I feel so bad about saying that!”
Please Touch Museum spokeswoman Tory Harris said attendance at the popular, interactive kids museum has not suffered this winter, despite the flu scare. The museum is taking the same precautions as usual to prevent the spread of germs; it has three sets of all of its costumes and props so they can be cleaned regularly.
“Our cleaning staff, in addition to cleaning the props and costumes that are rotated, there’s also people that are going around, cleaning off the exhibits every day,” Harris said.
The predominate strain this season, called H3N2, is known to make people feel sicker than other flu strains. It can cause respiratory problems, especially in the elderly.
Nursing homes taking precautions
Seventy two long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania have reached “influenza outbreak” status.
Montgomery County health official Michael Baysinger said that is an official designation that triggers recommended precautions for facilities.
“Once a facility has two or more cases of influenza in their facility, it’s an automatic recommendation that (residents) have their foods in their own rooms — they’re not out in their public dining areas or their community dining areas — so they can stop the spread,” Baysinger said. “It’s a level of protection that we try to give these nursing home facilities.
In Philadelphia, day-care centers, museums and long-term care facilities report ramping up cleaning and sanitation efforts to prevent the spread of the flu. Hospitals have designated separate sections of their emergency departments for flu patients.
Jefferson University Hospital is even handing out different-colored breathing masks to those with the flu, to identify them as infectious patients, according to a spokeswoman.
Philadelphia health commissioner Don Schwarz said the flu has reached a peak may start declining.
At a press conference on Friday, he still urged residents to get vaccinated, saying the flu is impossible to accurately predict and could peak again before the end of the season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu vaccine this year is 62 percent effective. That means those who have gotten the flu vaccine are 62 percent less likely to need to go to the doctor to get treated for the flu than those who did not.
Until the epidemic is over, parents such as Mercury Amodio will continue to come up with novel flu-season fun for their kids.
“Even just literally going to the mall and letting him ride the escalators,” Amodio said, can entertain her son for up to an hour. “You have to get a little creative.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error about the efficacy of the flu vaccine.