Columbia Memorial Health (1) Careers

Got flu? Avoid unnecessary hospital visit

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HUDSON–As swine flu, the illness now called novel H1N1 influenza, continues to spread in Columbia County, public health experts are advising people with flu-like illness to carefully consider whether they should seek medical care.

“We realize that many people are concerned because of the number of cases of this new flu in our area and the fact that some people have died from flu,” said Public Health Nurse Marge Costello, RN, in a press release from the county Department of Health. She said that was understandable, but health officials want people to know that for most individuals, “novel H1N1 flu influenza will be no worse than the seasonal flu we are used to.”

Ms. Costello said that most people recover from seasonal or novel H1N1 flu without needing medical treatment and most flu patients can be cared for best at home.

She urged those who are not seriously ill to avoid hospital emergency departments and instead contact their primary care doctor or health clinic.

“We’re asking for everyone’s help to make sure that emergency department treatment remains available for people who truly need it,” Ms. Costello said in the release. Emergency departments need to focus their resources on caring for people with severe novel H1N1 flu, while still managing their regular caseloads.

The health department made the following points to support its request that people with flu avoid using the emergency department except in severe cases, saying that when someone who does not actually have the flu or is mildly sick comes to a hospital emergency department:

* The individual could get the flu from someone who is waiting there

* The individual could give the flu to others

* The individual could delay important health care for seriously ill persons waiting to be treated.

Flu-like illness includes fever, chills, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, tiredness, and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting.

When caring for individuals at home, give them medications such as acetaminophen to help reduce fever, and make sure they get rest and plenty of fluids. Individuals under age 19 should never be given aspirin to reduce pain or fever, because it could cause a rare but potentially serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

Individuals who are sick should stay at home until fever has disappeared for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

Among the people who should seek care or advice from their medical practitioner if they have the flu are women who are pregnant, children younger than five, persons 65 and older, and persons of any age who have a medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma.

Flu patients who become dehydrated require medical intervention. Parents should be aware that children can become dehydrated in a short period of time. Things to be concerned about are dry mouth and tongue, lack of tears, dark circles or sunken eyes, decreased urine output and lethargy (extreme drowsiness or pronounced lack of interest in their surroundings). If these circumstances occur, call your healthcare provider. Get emergency care if your healthcare provider cannot be reached.

Call your doctor right away or get emergency care in the event of severe or worsening illness. In adults, the signs of severe or worsening illness are:

* Rapid breathing, difficulty breathing

* Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

* Bluish skin color, dizziness or confusion

* Increasing fever or severe persistent vomiting.

In children, the signs of severe or worsening illness include:

* Increased fever

* Rash

* Rapid or difficult breathing

* Bluish skin color

* Irritability

* Lack of responsiveness (not waking up or not interacting)

* Not drinking enough fluids.

If you are caring for a household member at home who is sick with influenza, the most important ways to protect yourself and others who are not sick are to:

* Keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible 

* Remind the sick person to cover their cough, and frequently wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub, especially after coughing and/or sneezing

* Have everyone in the household clean their hands often, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.

* Ask your healthcare provider if household contacts of the sick person–particularly those contacts who may be pregnant or have chronic health conditions–should take antiviral medications to prevent the flu.

If you are in a group considered at high risk for complications from influenza, you should attempt to avoid close contact (within six feet) with household members who are sick with influenza. If close contact with a sick individual is unavoidable, consider wearing a facemask, if available. 

More information on novel H1N1 influenza and taking care of an H1N1 flu patient at home is available at www.nyhealth.gov and www.cdc.gov. Additional information is also available at www.columbiacountyny.com.

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