flu shot

Walmart Pharmacy Manager Bassem Messiha readies a syringe before he administers a flu shot to a customer.

The holidays are a time for sharing food and conversation, but that’s not all that people are sharing. The holidays also mark a period when people are more likely to get sick.

While Dignity Health officials say the cold and flu season doesn’t typically pick up until January, they have recently been seeing a lot of sick children with croup, a virus infection that causes swelling in the throat, making it difficult to breathe and causing a barking-like cough.

“We’re seeing a lot of young children in the evenings, a lot of babies with croup,” said Jenny Wilson, director of nursing operations at Memorial Hospital. “For infants up to six months old, it can be very dangerous, because they have smaller tracheas.”

Wilson said there’s still a risk for older children, but croup is less likely to be dangerous for them. That doesn’t stop many parents from being concerned and taking their child to the emergency room.

“It sound like a seal bark when they cough, and that scares a lot of parents,” she said. “The virus usually presents itself like a common cold, with a sore throat and a runny nose at first.”

Wilson said that while the condition can be dangerous, particularly for the youngest children, it is not very difficult to treat. After taking some medication to get the inflammation down, children will usually be free of symptoms within a few days.

“Sometimes they will need inhaled medication to reduce inflammation, as well as a steroid,” she said. “It depends on the severity of the inflammation.”

Wilson said if parents notice their children starting to get a barking cough, fresh or humidified air can help with their breathing. Parents can also put them in a hot shower, as the steam can relieve the swelling.

When it comes to adults, Wilson said they haven’t seen many serious flu cases yet. However, she said there has been an increase in stomach-related illnesses lately.

“A (gastrointestinal) bug is going around right now, causing nausea and vomiting,” she said.

Wilson said the peak flu season usually runs from January through March. However, Kern County already reported its first flu-related death of the season earlier this month.

Last season, the Public Health department said there were two flu deaths and 11 nonfatal ICU cases. The department only counts people who are under the age of 65.

Tony Reyes, director of nursing for the emergency department at Adventist Health Bakersfield, said he also hasn’t seen many serious flu cases yet.

“We’re seeing some of it, but compared to last year we haven’t seen a surge yet,” he said. “Last year was one of our worst flu seasons.”

For the 2017-18 season, Adventist Health saw more cases of flu in its emergency room in January than it saw throughout the entire 2016-17 flu season.

The hospital documented 169 flu cases between Jan. 1 and Jan. 30, 2017. It saw 132 positive cases from October 2016 through March 2017.

Reyes said that from September through November this year, Adventist Health Bakersfield saw around 600 patients in the emergency department, of which 41 were found to be positive with flu.

Local hospitals are preparing in case the county has another bad flu season. Wilson said Memorial Hospital has hired four additional nurses per shift to help meet expected demand. Reyes said Adventist Health is hiring temporary nursing staff to provide extra assistance.

“We’re preparing to see 80-100 (flu cases) per day starting in January,” Wilson said. “We’re expecting to see a steady incline in flu-related illness. We’re seeing a slight increase in our flu cases right now, but it’s going to get worse. This is just the start of it.”