The number of patients visiting the hospital for influenza-like illnesses has been on the rise, and now places Hawaii in the same category as most of the nation for flu activity, according to the state Health Department.
Hospital visits in Hawaii have reportedly spiked just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that 16 more children in the U.S. died from the flu over the past week, bringing the total pediatric flu-related deaths to 53 this season.
Since the flu season began in early October, Hawaii had been an exception to reports of high flu activity in most states.
In a weekly report ending Jan. 27, the CDC included Hawaii in the same category as more than 40 U.S. states, including New York, Texas and Oregon, as experiencing a high level of flu activity. The most recent data available from the state’s Influenza Surveillance Report for the third week of January reported 7.3 percent of outpatient visits were related to influenza-like illness — higher than the national baseline.
Dr. Douglas Kwock, a pediatrician at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, said he has seen a rise in visits for influenza-like illness over the past few weeks.
“We’ve been noticing an uptick from the normal base line of activity, more so than in past seasons,” said Kwock. “This season we’ve seen more than usual.”
Kwock has not personally seen any of his patients, to his knowledge, hospitalized for influenza-like illnesses. He said he’s seen a larger volume of patients, rather than a more severe form of flu, compared with past seasons.
“The flu is the flu,” he said.
For flu patients his recommendations are the same as in previous years.
“Stay home, rest, stay hydrated,” he said. “Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen as needed for fever, muscle ache and pains.”
As for whether to take the prescription drug Tamiflu, Kwock said to consult with a physician because it’s a “very individualized decision.” Tamiflu also has side effects, and is not for everyone.
To prevent flu, he reminds patients of the importance of good hand-washing techniques, cough etiquette, meaning coughing into one’s sleeve instead of a hand or the open air, and avoiding contact with others when experiencing flu symptoms. One should be fever-free without taking medications for at least 24 hours, he said.
The state Influenza Surveillance Report for Jan. 14-20 reported 659 out of 2,062 tests for influenza viruses, or roughly 32 percent, came out positive.
The third week was a slight improvement over the second week, in which 7.7 percent of outpatient visits were related to influenza-like illness, higher than the previous week and Hawaii’s historical base line.
The state’s third week report also estimated 192 deaths were due to pneumonia or influenza for the current season. However, it said no influenza-associated pediatric deaths had been reported in Hawaii.
The age group with the highest percentage of positive specimens, according to the report, at 27 percent, was between 5 and 24.
The Health Department continues to recommend influenza vaccination for anyone 6 months and older as flu viruses are likely to continue circulating for weeks.