TRI-STATE (WFIE) - The flu season is off to a fast and brutal start in our region, and it's far worse than what health officials saw last year at this time.
We are learning emergency rooms across the Tri-State are overrun by cases of the flu. So far, nine reported flu-related deaths have occurred in Indiana. Eight deaths have from the illness have been reported in Kentucky.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports as of Friday the flu is now widespread in 46 states.
"We've seen a huge increase over the last three weeks, even over this past week," said Dawn Rogers, Deaconess' Patient Safety & Infection Control Officer.
Right now, Deaconess Hospital is averaging 50 to 60 patients daily who have been diagnosed with the flu. Rogers says it's happening at a rapid pace.
Last year, Indiana had one reported flu-related death. This year, the illness has claimed nine lives already.
"If you have symptoms of the flu, stay home," Rogers stressed. "Don't go in to work. Don't go shopping."
Deaconess is just one of the other hospitals taking precautions. Methodist Hospital is both Henderson and Union Counties has visitor restrictions in place to keep people safe. Owensboro Health, too.
"If people have any type of flu like symptom--coughing--any symptoms at all--we ask them to wear a mask," said Rogers. "We know that those are uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it's so important to protect those around and our staff."
Experts say the flu season may be more severe this year with the dominant strain being H3N2. The vaccine available in the U.S. is reportedly only 10% effective in preventing illness from the strain.
Flu shot or not, experts say, the classic hot water and soap on the regular is key. Hand sanitizer is good, too, but it doesn't replace hand washing.
"Sometimes, the variation doesn't go the way we think it's going to," explained Rogers, "so it doesn't offer as much of a protection as we would like. We just have to be diligent."
The elderly are among the most vulnerable to the flu, especially when dealing with other illnesses that may make their immune system work overtime.