There looks to be little relief from the ongoing influenza season as another, even nastier strain rears its ugly head.
Knox County is experiencing a rare second wave of influenza A activity, according to Robin McDonald, a registered nurse and Good Samaritan Hospital's infection preventionist.
Indiana, she said, is one of 30 states that is continuing to experience high, widespread influenza activity.
“Indiana has been above the baseline for influenza activity for 14 weeks now with two peaks of activity,” McDonald said, “and our second wave is still climbing.
“That is a long flu season and we are not done yet.”
McDonald said the hospital continues to see increases in the number of patients seeking treatment for influenza-related illness in its emergency room and local physician offices.
She said patients appear to be sicker this year and are experiencing more complications from the flu.
The reason, she said, is likely the sudden domination of a new, more severe type-A strain.
McDonald said local health professionals are seeing a shift from the previous dominant H1N1 strain to the H3N2 strain. More of that virus, she said, has been reported in the last three weeks.
And, unfortunately for those who have already been sick, it's possible to get both in one season, she said.
“Especially with this shift in strains that we are experiencing,” she said. “Even people who have already tested positive and recovered (from flu) are vulnerable to a second round of illness.”
Symptoms of both influenza strains are similar, McDonald said, and include cough, sore throat, headache, body pains and fever.
The difference is that the H3N2 strain typically leads to more a serious illness and, in some cases, hospitalization.
The hospital, she said, has had several admissions during this flu season, including two influenza-related deaths. Both were adults with a history of other medical conditions, she said.
As of March 15, the state Department of Health reported 60 deaths statewide from flu.
And, believe it or not, a flu shot can still help, McDonald said.
The Center for Disease Control says the vaccine can be beneficial as the illness continues to circulate. They also recommend that everyone age 6 months and older get the vaccine annually.
Children under the age of 5, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents in long-term care facilities and people with certain medical conditions continue to be at the highest risk of developing complications from the flu, McDonald said.
McDonald also said that the CDC says this year's vaccine offered protection for three strains yet preliminary reports show its only been 46-52 percent effective.
Still, the flu shot can result in a less-severe illness, she said.
McDonald also suggests steering clear from those who are sick, washing your hands regularly, keeping surfaces clean and avoiding touching your nose, mouth and eyes.
As the traditional flu season often draws to a close in early spring, healthcare officials usually report an emergence of the lesser B influenza strain, but there have been very few so far, McDonald said.
“An emergence of flu B may still be in our future, but it tends to be a milder illness and self-limiting in illness,” she said.
The hospital is still — and for the foreseeable future — limiting visitation as a result of a more active influenza season.
Children are discouraged from visiting at all.