Special by Colin Howarth, Staff Writer, Independent Newspaper
As the flu season nears its peak, South County Hospital is urging local residents to watch for symptoms of the virus, particularly among those who are most vulnerable.
According to state officials, Rhode Island has seen 11 flu-related deaths so far this season. Lee Ann Quinn, South County Health’s director of infection prevention and control, said the virus started spreading more rapidly in Washington County after Jan. 1. She expects it to reach its peak in 7-10 days.
“People have been asking me all week long, do you think this is the peak week?,” she said. “If you look at last week’s graph and you see what’s happening, it’s still climbing ... As of Friday and the weekend, it’s still peaking – still be on your guard.”
Quinn said the virus is spreading at a similar rate to last year.
“Obviously, the winter season is cold and flu season predominantly,” she said. “Flu comes on very quickly. I could be great talking to you right now, and then, all of a sudden, in a few hours I could start feeling feverish, and I get some chills and some muscle aches. Then I realize that I got a fever, and I’m not feeling well.”
Quinn said the first symptoms that doctors are trained to look for are the quick onset of a fever, intense muscle and body aches and a cough, as opposed to a cold of which sinus congestion and the sniffles are the main symptoms. Cold symptoms, she said, are not enough to keep someone in bed, but will be aggravating throughout the day.
When someone starts feeling a fever coming on, there are two options. One is to treat it at home with flu medicine and hydration, and the other is to be evaluated by a professional. Quinn said if symptoms persist or worsen, seeking medical attention is vital.
“The people you have to be careful [with] is the little ones and the elderly, and those with existing conditions,” she said. “Get tested with your primary care physician or an express care facility. They’ll be able to recognize based on your symptoms what they should be doing.”
She added, “You have to make sure if you have infants under six months in the household and you have someone else with influenza, you have to be careful with the children to make sure there is no possibility of transmission there, just being very mindful with what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.”
Quinn also urged those who have not yet done so to be vaccinated for the flu.
“Children six months of age and older are eligible for the flu vaccination. Those that are not [vaccinated] are very, very vulnerable,” she said.