With more than 300 Georgians hospitalized by last week and 12 deaths so far in the state, according to the state Department of Public Health, this year’s flu season cannot be taken lightly. The state Department of Public Health has identified the predominant strain of the virus as influenza A – H3N2, a strain known to be particularly hard on the very young and people over the age of 65 or those with existing medical conditions. Emergency rooms are being flooded with patients presenting with flu like symptoms, including Clearview Regional Medical Center and Clearview Urgent Care in Monroe.
Clearview’s ED Medical Director, Steven Durocher, M.D., said the hospital has seen a significant increase in emergency room visits with a large majority of patients demonstrating flu like symptoms.
“We definitely seem to be seeing more patients in the Emergency Department with flu like illnesses than we have in recent years. This is true at all area hospitals, and not just Clearview Regional. Fortunately we have not had to hospitalize very many patients due to the flu or complications from the flu. The large majority of patients are able to be discharged from the Emergency Department and managed on an outpatient basis,” Durocher said. “Most people who get influenza will recover in several days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications as a result of the flu. A wide range of complications can be caused by influenza virus infection of the upper respiratory tract (nasal passages, throat) and lower respiratory tract (lungs). While anyone can get sick with flu and become severely ill, some people are more likely to experience severe flu illness. Young children, adults aged 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions are among those groups of people who are at high risk of serious flu complications, possibly requiring hospitalization and sometimes resulting in death. For example, people with chronic lung disease are at higher risk of developing severe pneumonia.”
Durocher said there are ways to recognize the difference between a common cold and the flu. A cold tends to come on gradually and present a low grade fever or no fever at all and it is not usually accompanied with body aches. Flu, on the other hand, usually comes on abruptly and goes along with a high fever and body aches. He said it sometimes can be treated with over the counter medications, but there are indications that it is something more serious that may require a trip to the doctor, such as difficulty breathing, unable to control the fever, vomiting and unable to keep down medications.
“However, for the most part, the flu is treated with supportive care. Tylenol or Motrin for fever, plenty of fluids, rest, avoiding close contact with others,” he said. “The flu tends to hit the very young population and the elderly population the hardest. During most seasons, children younger than 5 years and adults 65 years and older have the highest hospitalization rates. These two groups are more likely to require hospitalization and should have a low threshold for seeing a healthcare provider.”
Durocher said there are some things to keep in mind during this very busy season to avoid becoming another flu victim.
“Avoid close contact with sick people, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often (with soap and water), and clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with flu viruses,” he said. “If you become sick, limit contact with others as much as possible. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine before resuming normal activities.)”
With the whole nation currently gripped by what has been dubbed “a deadly flu epidemic,” the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has put out a three-step approach to fighting the flu, beginning with a focus on how to prevent the spread of the flu right from the outset.
“Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through the coughing, sneezing, or talking with someone with the flu. Flu viruses also may spread when people touch something with flu virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes, or nose. Many other viruses spread these ways too. People infected with flu may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. That means you may be able to spread the flu to someone else before you know you are sick as well as while you are sick. Young children, those who are severely ill, and those who have severely weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer than 5-7 days,” the CDC wrote in its recommendations. Everyday preventive actions are steps that people can take to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illness, like flu. These include the following personal and community actions:
- The first and most important step is to get a flu vaccination each year.
- But if you get the flu, there are prescription antiviral drugs that can treat your illness. Early treatment is especially important for the elderly, the very young, people with certain chronic health conditions, and pregnant women.
- Finally, everyday preventive actions may slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu. This are: