As patients check into the Heartland Urgent Care clinic in Lincoln, many are choosing to wear face masks in the waiting room.
They slip on the free masks because they don’t want to be exposed to the flu, says Traci Jenkins, lead nurse practitioner.
“This is probably the worst flu season I’ve seen in well over seven years,” Jenkins said.
The clinic at 965 S. 27th St. has seen between 40 to 60 patients a day, more than double the non-flu patient load. And 90 percent of the people with flu-like symptoms are testing positive for the flu.
“It’s a big deal this year,” she said. “It’s been horrible. We are seeing people who have the flu shot and people who haven’t.”
State epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek say the flu is still a major problem this year.
“This remains a very problematic year. There is no dipping (in the flu-related numbers) yet,” he said.
Safranek and others thought the state might have reached a flu season peak several weeks ago and expected the numbers to begin dropping.
Instead, doctor visits for flu-related illnesses, hospital admissions and other related numbers have plateaued, and remain at a high level, he said.
In Lancaster County, hospital admissions and doctor visits for the flu, school flu activity and the total flu positivity testing rate all increased during the week that ended Feb. 10, based on the county’s flu report Friday.
Nebraska has had 46 flu-related deaths, including one child.
The only difference is in the type of flu. While Influenza A was the dominant problem earlier this winter, now Influenza B is picking up speed, according to Safranek.
The flu shot was not as effective this year, particularly for Influenza A.
The vaccine reduced your chances for getting Influenza A by 25 percent, but there was a 42 percent reduction for Influenza B, according to a Centers for Disease Control report released this week.
The CDC was expecting the vaccine to be less effective than usual this year because of the experience in Australia with the same vaccine, but this week's report was the first number based on the U.S. experience.
It makes little difference to a sick person which flu strain is at work, said Safranek. In fact, doctors can only tell which strain is making someone ill through the test.
But, in general, Influenza B isn’t as severe. "We don’t see as many hospital visits and there is less mortality,” he said.
And the vaccine this year is more effective against Influenza B, he said.
Bryan Health is seeing about 2 1/2 to 3 times its normal patient admission rate for flu-like symptoms, with an average of 95 people admitted weekly in January.
And about 40 percent of the patients at the Bryan East Campus emergency department are coming because of flu-like symptoms. That’s an average of 50 people a day, according to Brad Colee, media-relations specialist at the hospital.
The biggest surge of patients happens between 3 p.m. and midnight, primarily because parents bring in their children after school and other doctor’s offices are closed in the evening, Colee said.
The doctors are able to treat patients having flu-like symptoms right away during the day. But in the afternoon and evening, some patients have had to wait a couple of hours because of the high volume, Colee said.
Safranek warned that people who have one flu strain can get the other strain.
And there are often no logical reasons for who gets the flu, Jenkins said.
"It’s an eloquent virus," she said. "It picks and chooses who it will hit. One person in a family may get the flu, but not others. But it will nail a whole section of employees in one cubicle area."
All the experts give similar advice about how to avoid getting or passing on the flu — starting with getting a flu shot.
Other advice includes washing your hands, not touching your face, avoiding people with coughs, coughing into your sleeve and staying home from work while ill.