With flu cases surging in the DC area, here’s a doctor’s advice

The number of influenza cases has triggered a precautionary policy at Children’s National Hospital in D.C. An influenza-related alert to take extra precautions is going out to staff and visitors.

“With visitors to the hospital, we’re extremely cautious if anyone has any kind of cold or flu symptoms or fevers, and we want to, if possible, discourage them from visiting,” said Dr. Bernard Wiedermann, attending in pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s National Hospital.

“If they must visit, we screen them coming into the hospital to make sure they’re aware and limit their exposure,” he said.

To prevent spreading flu:

  • Stay home if you’re sick,
  • Remain isolated until 24 hours after your fever breaks,
  • Cough into a tissue or crook of your elbow,
  • Wash hands frequently.

Noting something unusual this year, Wiedermann said cases caused by the influenza B strain are showing up first in D.C. this flu season; something also being observed in other jurisdictions across the country.

Last week, Children’s saw what is characterized as a “sharp increase of flu and other respiratory viral activity,” with 18 influenza B patients and three influenza A patients.

“Usually, we don’t see that particular strain early in flu season,” Wiedermann said, while noting that that has some experts speculating that after the A strain gets going, there could be a double peak in the flu season.

Elsewhere, Betty Klinck, with Adventist HealthCare, said in an email, “Adventist HealthCare has not yet implemented any flu-related visitor restrictions at this time. We continue to monitor flu cases to ensure our patients and visitors are safe from flu.”

The flu season can last as late as May, so Wiedermann believes people should get the vaccine if they haven’t already.

It might not be clear until flu season ends how good a match this year’s vaccine is to what will be circulating. Flu vaccines typically are only about 50% effective at completely preventing infection. But, even a match that’s less than perfect can help.

“It’s the difference between having maybe a week of high fever and aches and feeling miserable, or having a couple days of it,” Wiedermann said.

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