On the rise: Hospital, schools, pharmacies see increase in flu
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Carla Noah Stutsman
How do you know when the flu has reached epidemic proportions?
Maybe it’s when the community relations manager at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Azle (THAZ) – who is working on providing statistics and information about flu cases and how they are impacting the local hospital – calls to let you know she’s at home.
With the flu.
Marsha Ingle said on Friday, Jan. 11 she’d be happy to help the News and the Epigraph with information for a localized story about the influenza virus. By Monday, she was down with the flu herself.
Shawn Davis, M.D., is director of the emergency department at THAZ and took a few minutes to talk about the flu situation.
“Just like the rest of the country, we have experienced a surge in influenza cases over the past few weeks,” Davis said. “That has increased our volume about 50 percent at certain times, which makes it more difficult to get everyone seen.”
Davis says the single best action anyone can take in preventing the flu is to get a flu shot every year. Beyond that critical measure, good hand and respiratory hygiene are also critical.
“Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, wash your hands often and/or use an alcohol-based gel or foam hand sanitizer,” Davis advised. “Certainly avoid direct close contact with anyone who has flu symptoms.”
Davis also explained that people who do get flu-like symptoms do not necessarily need to head straight to the emergency room.
“Most people do just fine with lots of rest and fluids and Motrin and Tylenol for pain and fever,” he explained. “When you come to the ER, you not only run the risk of infecting others with flu, but if you don’t have the flu after all, you could become infected while at the ER.”
If you are able to see your personal physician within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms, you may be considered for Tamiflu, which reduces the severity and duration of flu-like symptoms by a small amount, Davis said.
There are some notable exceptions to staying away from the hospital emergency room.
“You should definitely come to the ER if you experience serious signs or symptoms such as increasing shortness of breath, inability to tolerate oral intake or fevers unresponsive to medication,” Davis said. “Also, certain populations should be especially vigilant to avoid influenza and get treated immediately if they have symptoms. Those include anyone over the age of 65 or under the age of five; pregnant women; and patients with multiple medical problems like heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
Cindy Bierbrauer, human resources director for THAZ, said Texas Health Resources began requiring mandatory flu vaccines for all employees in 2011.
“We have one hundred percent compliance – nobody wants the flu,” she said. “Still, we do have a lot of flu patients in the hospital, and some of our staff have been personally affected by the flu.”
Other precautions the hospital is taking include segregating and masking potential flu patients as soon as they enter the ER waiting room, and availability of sanitizing hand gels or foams placed liberally throughout the hospital, Bierbrauer said.
“We also have several good resources available to us, such as our central staffing office if we need ‘per diem’ staff,” she explained. “That helps us fill any holes created by staff absences – we won’t turn anyone away (for lack of staffing).”
Nikki Hall-Branch, senior media relations specialist for Texas Health Resources, said since November 2012, Texas Health Azle has performed approximately 300 flu tests with about 10 percent of those testing positive for the flu.
Local pharmacies are seeing an increase in flu cases, as well.
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