Bug keeps beds at local hospitals filled

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Local hospitals remain packed to capacity with individuals suffering from flu-like symptoms, say local health officials.

&uot;It’s holding steady,&uot; said Kay Ketchings, marketing director for Natchez Community Hospital. &uot;We’re seeing mostly upper respiratory symptoms.&uot;

With a census of 80 Wednesday, Natchez Community has remained near capacity since mid December.

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Debbie Fesmire, infection control and employee health nurse at Natchez Community, said the key to staying well in flu season is two fold.

&uot;First, wash those hands,&uot; Fesmire said. &uot;That can prevent a lot of colds and flu.&uot;

The other consideration is avoiding places where sick people are likely to gather, she said.

&uot;Stay out of closed in places with people who are sick,&uot; Fesmire said.

No information was available from Natchez Regional&160;Medical Center Wednesday.

Riverland Medical Center in Ferriday, La., has a somewhat lower patient census this week over last, said a spokesperson for the hospital.

Running about 75 percent of capacity, Riverland’s census was 37 Wednesday morning compared to 45 in the previous week.

Field Memorial Hospital in Centreville has experienced similar demand for services as the Natchez hospitals, said Brock Slabach, administrator at Field Memorial.

&uot;We saw the first incidences of flu beginning around two days after Christmas,&uot; Slabach said.

Field Memorial has continued to experience full capacity or close to full capacity of its 36 beds since then.

Local schools are posting sporadic outbreaks, with some sections of the community faring worse than others.

Morgantown Elementary and Frazier Primary posted the most illness related absenteeism.

&uot;It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,&uot; said La Ne’ Henry, secretary and attendance clerk at Frazier.

On Monday, the school had 35 students and 14 staff members out.

Other schools in the Natchez-Adams School District are reporting average levels of absenteeism.

&uot;We’re about normal for January,&uot; said Brenda Williams, principal of Natchez High School. &uot;Certainly nothing of epidemic proportions.&uot;

Concordia School Board reported normal attendance at the Ferriday schools and a slightly higher absentee rate at Monterey and Vidalia schools.

Adams County Christian School, Trinity Episcopal School and Cathedral School reported normal absentee rates.

The flu has a good foothold in the state of Mississippi, reaching &uot;widespread&uot; status, said Bruce Brackin, deputy state epidemiologist at the Mississippi Department of Health.

Brackin said there are four benchmarks for the spread of flu in Mississippi: (1) no flu (2) sporadic (3) regional and (4) widespread.

When an outbreak of flu reaches the widespread mark, it means that more than half the state has been affected, he said.

&uot;With the outbreak in Jackson, we moved to widespread status,&uot; Brackin said.

North Mississippi hasn’t been dramatically affected yet, Brackin said, but &uot;the flu is moving up I-55.&uot;

Since influenza isn’t one of the illnesses reported by the Department of Health, state epidemiologists primarily keep tabs on the spread of the flu through contacting doctors around the state.

Brackin said that Influenza A is the primary strain being identified around the state.

&uot;There are effective treatments,&uot; he said, but they depend on the patient seeing their doctor within the first 12 to 24 hours of flu onset.

Officials at the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have been tracking the flu’s course through the nation.

As 1999 came to a close, 31 percent of samples tested by the World Health Organization and the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System were positive for influenza.

The positive test results have overwhelmingly been Influenza Type A, according to CDC reports.

At the close of 1999, 13 states had recorded widespread outbreak of influenza: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

The mortality rate for the flu so far this winter has been above norms, according to CDC reports.

In the United States, the predominant influenza virus circulating this winter has been the Sydney influenza virus.