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Look out: Baystate Franklin numbers reflect national trends in flu season

  • Dr. Hany Atallah stands inside a mobile emergency room set up outside Grady Memorial Hospital to help handle the ever-growing number of flu cases in Atlanta, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The trailer, called Carolinas MED-1, has 14 beds and will sit outside the hospital's main emergency room for 30 days to alleviate wait times and bed shortages. It opens to patients the next day. (AP Photo/David Goldman) David Goldman



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

GREENFIELD — Local residents aren’t exempt from the national trends that have plagued the country in this year’s flu season, on track to be the worst in a decade.

Flu data released by Baystate Franklin Medical Center show the reach of the flu has already passed last year’s entire season reach, seeing a 7 percent increase in admitted patients to the hospital because of the flu.

Through Feb. 13, there were 72 admissions to the hospital for the flu compared to a total of 67 admissions all of last year’s season, according to the hospital’s Infection Control Coordinator Mary Ellen Ahearn.

“The facts show we have more people being admitted for the flu this year and I think that’s a very real, reasonable number to talk about,” said Dr. Rakesh Talati, medical director of the hospital’s emergency department.

Talati said the flu itself looks similar to what they’ve seen in recent years, but there has certainly been an increase in the numbers of people they’ve seen come to the hospital.

Similarly, Baystate Franklin has seen 245 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu compared to the 2016-17 season that saw a total of 185 lab confirmed cases.

That accounts for a 32 percent increase in lab confirmed cases — although this number should be used with caution in this year’s conversation around the flu. An increased ease in testing at the hospital might have contributed to more confirmed cases, Talati said.

Last year’s flu season began the last week of December 2016 and lasted to the end of May 2017. There were two peaks, with one at the end of January through early February and the other peaking from the end of March to early April. That means even before the flu peaked for the second time last year, the current data this year have surpassed those total numbers.

The data only include those who have come to Baystate Franklin Medical Center and its 48 Sanderson St. site.

“We’ve seen a lot of cases in a short amount of time, with many admissions, because it really affects people who have a lot of other medical issues too, requiring them to have care in a hospital, too,” said Ahearn, who works to help prevent the spread of infections for patients and employees.

While the uptick in cases confirmed in the lab has been a large jump from last year, the increased number of admissions has not been as steep. Ahearn said that may be because there are also many people with confirmed cases of the flu who then go home and treat it with fluids and a prescription to Tamiflu.

Last year, 36 percent of those with lab confirmed results of the flu were then admitted to the hospital, while this year’s rate currently is 29 percent.

The rise in numbers has kept both the hospital’s inpatient and emergency departments busy for weeks, Ahearn said.

“For us, the inpatient units have been full on a number of days and when the unit patients are full and we’re keeping admitted patients in the emergency department, it does limit some of our actual space,” Talati said. “Our ED staff, we’re well staffed. We have the doctors and nurses to take care of everyone.”

This year’s flu vaccine has not been as effective, Ahearn said. Yet, she still recommends getting the flu shot, even if you haven’t to this point.

Talati emphasized the need for children to get the flu shot because it significantly reduces the chance of death in the very young.

This week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported the first child under the age of 10 to die from a flu-related illness. The child lived in Essex County.

Last week, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the flu is still on the rise, leading to a chance to break some recent records.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264