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The flu is making people in our region sicker than it did last year

The waiting room at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center was full on Friday.

The hospital in Woodbridge and its satellite location in Lake Ridge have been swamped in recent days by patients who have fallen ill with the flu.

In Virginia, it’s widespread, and this year’s flu strain is different than what we saw last year. The predominant strain that is seen this year is making people sicker than in year’s past.

Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center Emergency Department Chief Dr. Adam Brown: 

“However this year is dissimilar from last year we are seeing patients get much sicker and have more respiratory type of complaints or respiratory issues associated with it, meaning severe shortness of breath, wheezing, having high fevers listlessness etc. When those type of things are happening, that’s definitely the reason to be coming to the emergency department… Last year with the flu…we didn’t see it at the levels that we are already seeing influenza this year and as early as we are seeing it. We typically gets peaks of influenza in January and February and we’re already starting to see high levels but we’re also starting to see patients get sicker this year than we’ve seen in the past.”

Those who have not already been vaccinated this season for flu should plan to wear a mask if they need to visit the hospital, says Brown:

“… we require them to wear masks not only for their own safety from getting infected by influenza but also to prevent trans transmitting the virus to other patients and to other colleagues. What we’ve done is we have multiple flu kits that are stationed around the entrances in the lobbies that have masks as well as a gel hand sanitizers scattered around the hospital in the hallways et cetera. We just want to make sure that patients know that that’s available to them. We want them to use it liberally because people can spread the virus the influenza virus even before they start having symptoms up to 12 to 24 hours. So whatever you’re coming here to visit a family member or a loved one here at the hospital we want people to feel very comfortable of course and wearing the mask as they’d like. And also we always want people to wash their hands on a very frequent basis with any type of patient interaction or family interaction.”

The flu shot is having less of a preventative effect on patients with this year’s flu strain, Brown tells us. But llu season runs until May, so it’s still a good idea to get your flu shot, says Brown: 

“So it takes a few weeks for the shot to start working within the system and within the body. So if you don’t have your flu shot you need to get it now so that protects you for the end of January February March and beyond. Still recommended one thing that is a little different this year is that the predominant strain of flu that is floating out there around the community is not as sensitive to the flu shot. Now does that mean that you should not get the flu shot. Absolutely not. You still need to get the flu shot because there are still a good chance that that flu vaccine will prevent you from getting the flu. And it’s much better than having nothing.”

And there are over-the-counter ways to treat the flu, says Brown:

‘Those symptoms are fevers chills really severe body aches sometimes headaches and then in addition to that people will get coughing dry cough type symptoms. For the most part most people with run of the mill influenza. It’s a self-limited disease process meaning that taking things like acetaminophen or Tylenol or Motrin to help treat fevers some cough medications over the over-the-counter staying in bed drinking lots of fluids takes care of that illness without a lot of problems.”

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