Local hospitals are again seeing a lot of patients with flu or flu-like symptoms, although the virus does not appear to be having a big impact on the metro area's large employers.
Only about 15 patients showed up at Erlanger with the flu or flu-like symptoms in the first and second week of January, but that figure jumped to 63 the third week, dipped to 20 the following week, then rose again to 56 for the week of Jan. 29 and 93 for last week, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Homa.
At CHI Memorial, staffers performed 117 flu tests two weeks ago, of which 12, or about 10 percent, were positive. But last week they performed 231 tests and 42 of those were positive for the flu virus, a rate of 18 percent. "We may be peaking now," said spokeswoman Karen Long.
Cases of influenza tend to spike sharply at some point during the winter instead of rising steadily. Last year, the spike occurred late, in March, while the previous year it occurred near the end of December.
Checks with several large local employers showed no unusual number of absences. City of Chattanooga spokeswoman Marissa Bell said she had anecdotal reports that some city departments had more employees than normal out sick, but overall there was no trend. BlueCross BlueShield reported similar results.
"Anecdotally, a few of our divisions have seen a slight rise in [paid time off] requests over the past week or two," said spokeswoman Alison Sexter. "We hear it's mostly been from employees who've stayed home to care for sick relatives, as opposed to employees actually being sick themselves."
EPB spokesman John Pless said there were no unusual reports of the flu. Erlanger reported that some employees had been sick with the flu, but said that "these absences have not affected patient care."
Parkridge Hospital said it was not experiencing any unusual employee absences but noted that the hospital follows the same policy as all other area hospitals in requiring employees to get a flu shot.
Influenza specialists said that it is still not too late to get a flu shot. They also advise the public to try to avoid contact with those who may carry the flu virus by staying away from crowds, and washing their hands regularly if they have been in public places. Doctors also said that those who are in regular contact with seniors or infants should take particular care to get a flu shot and take other measures to avoid spreading the virus.