Many medical centers nationwide - including Susquehanna Health - reportedly are swamped with people infected with the flu.
"Susquehanna Health's Williamsport Regional Medical Center and Muncy Valley Hospital are seeing an increase in inpatient volumes with patients who have influenza, respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and gastrointestinal viruses," reported Sue Duchman, chief nursing officer of Susquehanna Health. "We are taking care of our patients in a very systematic, compassionate and safe way. We have plans in place to prepare for large inpatient volumes such as this, and we are following those plans. This includes having additional clinical staff on site and transferring patients to make beds available."
The cold weather months often bring an increase of influenza, often with the biggest numbers of illnesses in January and February.
Many people get vaccinated for influenza well before the onset of flu season.
Most people who contract the illness suffer nothing more than flu-like symptoms, which can include fever, cough, runny nose, aches and fatigue.
However, about 24,000 Americans die each year from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
how to tell a cold from the flu:
The common cold and flu are caused by different viruses but can have some similar symptoms, making them tough to tell apart. In general, the flu is worse and symptoms are more intense.
COLDS: Usual symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. Coughs are hacking and productive. It's unusual to have fever, chills, headaches and body aches, and if they do occur, they are mild.
FLU: Fever is usually present, along with chills, headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and tiredness. Symptoms can come on rapidly, within three to six hours. Coughs are dry and unproductive, and sore throats are less common.
PREVENTION: To avoid colds and flu, wash your hands with warm water and soap after you've been out in public or around sick people. Don't share cups or utensils. And get a flu vaccination - officials say it's not too late, even in places where flu is raging.
TREATMENT: People with colds or mild cases of the flu should get plenty of rest and fluids.
Those with severe symptoms, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing, should see a doctor and may be prescribed antiviral drugs or other medications. Children should not be given aspirin without a doctor's approval.
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Roche, maker of Tamiflu
People most vulnerable to the flu include those with weak immune systems and the elderly.
A number of physician offices and pharmacies still are offering flu shots. The state Department of Health in Williamsport also is making the vaccines available.
Susquehanna Health does not offer vaccines to the general public.
However, health care workers there are encouraged to receive vaccines.
"We innoculate all our employees," spokeswoman Tracie Witter said. "Those who don't (receive vaccines) have to wear masks."
Overall, more than 93 percent of employee service partners were vaccinated to decrease the risk of transmitting influenza to patients, Duchman said.
She noted that the medical center's new emergency department was designed to accommodate large inpatient volumes.
"For example, if patients are waiting in the emergency department for an inpatient bed, the emergency department rooms are comfortable and private with beds instead of traditional litters, complete with televisions and restrooms. Our Environmental Services employee service partners are responding quickly to clean rooms and are increasing the frequency of cleaning high-touch and high-traffic public areas to decrease the possibility of sharing viruses."