Published Date Written by Gail OberLACONIA — A spokesman for LRGHealthcare said yesterday that so far this winter the number of complaints about influenza or "flu" have been about the same as in past years but the severity of the symptoms is much worse.
Natalie Rudzinskyj also said that LRGHealthcare providers have ample amounts of the flu vaccine available and that it is not too late to get a flu shot — highly recommended she said for infants over six months, the elderly, and people who are more vulnerable to illness.
According to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, influenza outbreaks typically peak in February and March but this year the flu has stricken New Hampshire early.
So far this season there have been 44 outbreaks reported, most occurring in nursing homes or long-term care facilities and 27 of those outbreaks remain open and active. According to Beth Daly, the chief of infectious disease surveillance, there have been 20 flu-related deaths in the state so far this season.
A recent map posted on the state Website shows Belknap County has high levels of what the state calls acute respiratory illnesses.
ARIs include all complaints as reported by hospitals that include fever or cough, sore throat or respiratory infections and can include pneumonia, pharyngitis, bronchitis, sinusitis and influenza.
Daly explained that a threshold level — or the level that represents a significant increase — is established that represents the percent of people who go to their emergency room with ACIs.
In Belknap County the threshold level is 3.6 percent and the actual rating for the second week of January was nearly twice that at 6.1 percent, meaning 6.1 percent of the people who went to the emergency room had flu-like symptoms.
"We consider that 'high,'" Daly said. In week two of 2013, Cheshire, Merrimack and Rockingham Counties registered "very high" on the same scale.
Because not all physicians test for influenza, Daly said actual statistics on influenza verses very bad colds are not exact.
Symptoms are similar but Daly said those infected with flu see a "sudden onset" of symptoms that can rapidly become debilitating.
Daly also said that 2011 and 2012 were very light years for the flu so while this year seems extraordinarily high, she said it is on par with other years and is not as severe as 2009.
At LRGHealthcare, that operates hospitals in Franklin and Laconia as well as the Laconia Clinic, Rudzinskyj said there are no restrictions on visiting patients but the hospital strongly discouraging visit at this time.
"In order to protect our patients and employees, if you have any flu-like symptoms please don't visit your loved ones," she said.
She also said that people who do visit are strongly encouraged to wear masks.