The flu comes with the winter season, but this year it came barging in way too soon.

According to officials at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, cases of the flu usually peak from January through March, but this year, flu-like symptoms and confirmed flu cases have exceeded peaks from previous years.

There was 1,200 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza reported to the Department of Public Health from Oct. 1, 2017 to Dec. 30, 2017.

There were only 354 cases reported during the same weeks a year prior.

Sturdy Memorial Hospital’s Chief of Emergency & Occupational Health Service & Associate Chief Quality Officer, Dr. Brian Patel, said he’s seen similar peaks in past years but, he said, there has been an increased volume in people with flu-like symptoms this year.

According to Patel, the Attleboro hospital tested 55 positive flu cases since Dec. 1, no more than what he’s seen in years prior.

Patel said it’s difficult to tell this early if this is going to be a bad flu season.

“It’s really hard to tell,” he said.

“We try and look at data on the flu from other countries, but most of the time it’s difficult to predict.”

Patel said there are varying strains of the flu virus that affect people year-after-year.

Doctors and other specialists at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta try to predict which strain will be most dominant when creating flu vaccines, he said.

Unfortunately, this year’s strain, known as H3N2, was not fully covered by the vaccine. But Patel still urges patients to get a flu shot.

“The shot will allow symptoms to be less severe and will cover other strains of the flu that are still going around,” he said.

IV bag shortage

Hospitals across the country are also struggling with a shortage of IV saline bags, the bulk of which are made in Puerto Rico which was devastated by hurricanes last season.

The shortage, caused after power failures across the island which made it impossible for the manufacturers to turn out the bags, has hit Sturdy as well.

But doctors at Sturdy quickly adopted alternative methods to treating patients.

As soon as Sturdy was alerted of the shortage, hospital officials began implementing what they described as alternative IV administration guidelines in order to conserve the bags, according to Kayla Bagley, public relations and communications specialist at the hospital.

“We have adjusted our practices in order to aide in the conservation of the solutions, while providing quality care,” she said.

Instead of IV bags used to slowly drip liquids into a patient’s veins, doctors are using the “straight push method” in which medications are injected directly into the vein, Patel said.

Abigail DesVergnes can be reached at 508-236-0340.

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