The overall number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases in Delaware this flu season remained lower than the total number of cases reported at the same time in 2018, and the number of flu-related deaths has continued to increase during the 2018-19 flu season.
As of Feb.16, the most recent date for which data is available, the Division of Public Health confirmed 3,264 flu cases in Delaware during the 2018-19 season, down from the 2017-18 season when there were 5,758 confirmed flu cases reported by that time last year. However, DPH was notified of 16 flu-related deaths so far this season, currently making it the third highest season for flu-related fatalities in the last decade. There were 35 flu-related deaths reported during the 2017-18 season and 28 during the 2014-15 season.
The most recent death involved a 90-year-old Sussex County man who was infected with influenza A and had underlying health conditions. The individuals who passed away this flu season were infected with influenza A and had underlying health conditions or suspected health complications. The individuals ranged in age from 41 to 90 years old. Four were New Castle County residents, six were Kent County residents, and six were Sussex County residents. Nine of the individuals were women, and seven were men.
The risk for flu-related deaths is increased in the very young, older individuals and those of any age who have underlying health conditions. DPH continues to remind the public that there are steps they can take to prevent the spread of the flu. Older individuals with underlying health conditions should be vaccinated and limit contact with anyone who may be sick with influenza, and should contact their health care provider as soon as they become ill. Also, family, friends and caregivers of older individuals with underlying health conditions should be vaccinated and arrange for alternative care, if possible, if they become sick with influenza.
DPH also recommends that individuals with chronic diseases monitor and manage their conditions, as noncompliance with physician’s recommendations can increase the risk for infection and complications. This includes maintaining appointments with their health care provider, taking medications as prescribed and following diet and exercise recommendations from their doctor. Additionally, individuals who smoke and who are ready to stop using tobacco are encouraged to call the Delaware Quitline at 866-409-1858.
While it may seem late in the flu season to some, flu germs can spread into the summer months. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to take full effect, so anyone who has not yet received the vaccine should make an effort to get one as soon as possible.
Flu vaccines are available at State Service Centers, primary care providers and specialists, pharmacies and some grocery stores. To find participating stores, enter the ZIP code in the CDC’s flu vaccine finder at cdc.gov/flu. For more information about the flu, visit flu.delaware.gov or call 800-282-8672. The CDC recommends the use of any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine, including inactivated influenza vaccine, recombinant influenza vaccine or live attenuated influenza vaccine. For questions about which vaccine is best, talk to a doctor or other health care professional.
Flu shots are available at DPH clinics located within the State Service Centers:
— Porter State Service Center, 509 W. 8th St., Wilmington. For all ages 9 and older. Walk-ins are welcome from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
— Hudson State Service Center, 501 Ogletown Road, Newark. For all ages, including children age 6 months and older. Call 283-7587 (choose option 2) to make an appointment Monday through Friday.
— Williams State Service Center, 805 River Road, Dover. For all ages, including children age 6 months and older. Call 857-5140 to make an appointment from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.
— Milford State Service Center - Riverwalk, 253 N.E. Front St., Milford. For ages 9 years and older. Call 424-7130 to make an appointment from 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays and 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays.
— Anna C. Shipley State Service Center, 350 Virginia Ave., Seaford. For all ages, including children age 6 months and older. Walk-ins welcome from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Call 628-6772.
— Adams State Service Center, 544 S. Bedford St., Georgetown. For all ages, including children age 6 months and older. Walk-ins welcome from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursdays only.
For more about flu surveillance in Delaware, visit dhss.delaware.gov/dph/epi/influenzawkly.html.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine and taking antiviral medication, DPH recommends:
— Practice social distancing if exhibiting cold or flu-like symptoms.
— Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
— Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue, and dispose of tissues immediately; if no tissue is available, sneeze or cough into the inner elbow.
— Stay home if sick until free of fever for 24 hours — with a temperature less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, without the use of fever-reducing medications for at least 24 hours.
Social distancing means that those sick with the flu should stay home from work, school and other gatherings and not return until they have been free of fever — with a temperature less than 100 F without the use of fever-reducing medications for at least 24 hours. They should avoid close contact with well people in the household, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other clear liquids. Over-the-counter medicines can provide symptom relief, but if influenza is suspected, call a doctor, as they may decide to provide antiviral medications to help hasten recovery and prevent serious complications. This is particularly important for those who feel sick, are pregnant or have chronic medical conditions.
Flu symptoms come on suddenly and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue. Some get complications including pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections. People with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and asthma are more susceptible to catching the flu.
For more about the flu, visit flu.delaware.gov or call DPH at 800-282-8672.