By Adam Ganucheau/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – As the influenza outbreak spreads, Northeast Mississippi health officials and residents are taking extra precautions to ensure that the outbreak doesn’t become an epidemic.
Doctors say elderly adults and children are the most likely to come down with the illness.
“We are seeing significantly more influenza in the geriatric population this year,” Tupelo geriatric specialist Dr. Ashley Harris said. “The particular flu strain that we are observing appears to be associated with more severe illness across all ages.”
While children are a high risk group, the Tupelo Public School District has not been hit as hard as the elderly, boasting a 96 percent attendance rate – something school officials say is unusually high this time of year.
While Tupelo’s school system is mostly full, so is North Mississippi Medical Center’s emergency room.
“Since the holidays we have had a significant increase in medical patients, many of which have been flu-related,” said NMMC President Steve Altmiller. “Emergency department visits have routinely exceeded 300 patients a day, compared to our average of 230 to 250 patients per day throughout 2012. Our urgent care clinics have been up 15 to 18 percent in visits over the same period last year.”
In light of the increased visits, NMMC has changed its visitor policies to decrease the spread of flu and flu-like symptoms, limiting visitors to one per patient at a time. And the hospital is not alone in this precautionary action.
“We are limiting and even discouraging visitors at this time,” said Tupelo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Executive Director Lisa Hosford. “Additionally, we have made it mandatory for all staff and visitors that come in contact with patients to wear masks.”
Doctors are still advising people that it is not too late to get a flu shot. Though the flu shot is the most effective way to prevent infection, it is not foolproof.
“I did get the flu shot but I still came down with the flu,” said Saltillo resident Missy Ford, who was diagnosed with flu on Wednesday. “It didn’t feel like the flu at all because I wasn’t running a fever or aching. I thought it was bronchitis, but the doctor said it was flu. I was really surprised.”
Nearly 130 million doses of flu vaccine were distributed this year, and at least 112 million have been used. Vaccine is still available, but supplies may have run low in some locations, officials said.
The outbreak has raised questions about how long prescription medications like Tamiflu can remain stocked in area pharmacies.
“Right now, we have plenty of Tamiflu, but we still are out of one cough medicine,” Fred’s pharmacist Eddie Armstrong said. “If we do have a shortage of Tamiflu, we have an effective plan in place.”
Armstrong said his pharmacy has run out of the drug in previous years, and it was handled accordingly.