Flu rages across country, but Morrow County faring well
By Randa Wagner -
The flu bug is wreaking havoc this season across the nation, overwhelming emergency room staff in some areas to the point of setting up mobile tents to handle the overflow.
While 47 states are reporting widespread flu activity, Ohio is certainly no exception. Morrow County, however, isn’t faring too badly so far.
“We’re not seeing a higher number of patients, but we are seeing a higher number of patients for flu symptoms,” says Emergency Department Manager Teresa Roe. “Some days are very busy, and some aren’t.”
Connie Mattingly, Employee Health Nurse and Infection Preventionist, says in the fourth quarter of 2011 (Oct. through Dec.), their lab ran 17 tests for influenza.
“Of those, zero were positive,” she states. “In the fourth quarter of 2012, we ran 107 tests (an 89% increase), of which 20 were positive for type A influenza and 9 were positive for type B.”
Though it’s essentially the same virus, she says, Type ‘A’ is the ‘king’ that can be ‘sub-typed’ (i.e. H1N1) and typically comes from birds, swine, etc. Type ‘B’ is strictly transmitted human-to-human, determined by the results of a nasal swab that shows a particular antigen that the body is producing to fight that strain of flu.
Symptoms are the same for both: fever, body aches, sore throat, cough, nausea, and vomiting.
“If you are sick enough to come to the emergency room to be seen, we’ll do the swab to test which type you may have,” Mattingly says. That information is entered into a database so the information can go to the county and state for their statistics.
“We will treat you with an anti-viral medication,” she says. “Most common is TAMIFLU (oseltamivir phosphate), and we encourage lots of fluids, bed rest and FREQUENT hand hygiene. For those people who don’t have the flu, they (likely) have a bad cold that can behave like flu.”
People tend to use the word ‘flu’ as a generic term, Mattingly says, because they have flu-like symptoms. If you think you had a ‘stomach flu’ you may have had a bad cold and not influenza. Typically with influenza, the patient has a very high temperature that usually lasts for more than one day.
Roe says if you test negative for influenza A and B, what you do have is still very contagious.
“It’s a matter of: if you don’t feel well, stay home,” she urges. “If you are sick, come to the emergency room. Otherwise, stay home to prevent others from catching it. It’s so easily spread.”
Acute Care Manager Carol Vail says MCH hasn’t had very many patients actually admitted with an influenza diagnosis, though some have been admitted with flu-type symptoms. If they are debilitated, especially the elderly or someone with a pre-existing lung condition, they are generally going to get admitted.
Mattingly explains people in age or illness-specific groups (i.e. diabetes, heart, COPD, kidney, over the age of 65, or young children) are the groups they worry most about, as they are most vulnerable and have longer lasting effects.
“When those patients are admitted, we put them in isolation,” Vail says. “Visitors for the patients must wear masks and gowns, no matter how much previous exposure they may have had to the patient. These viruses can affect the staff, too.”
Kelly Hand, Public Information Officer for the Morrow County Health Dept., confirmed 5 cases of influenza-associated hospitalizations in the county from Sept. 2012 through this past Monday. During the same time period last year, there were zero influenza-associated hospitalizations. There was one in March and one in April, 2012, the only two of the ‘season.’ Those results included the H3n2V virus. Hand adds these numbers do not include how many people might have been tested at doctor’s offices and sent home with medications.
Coughing and touching surfaces are the chief contributors to spreading cold and flu germs. Roe says when it’s ‘going around the house’ in a family, by the time the last person catches it, the first person — who is now feeling better — can get the symptoms again.
“There are so many strains of the flu and flu-like illnesses, you can get sick more than once,” she explains.
Roe realizes it’s hard to stay home and rest when you feel you must go to work. For those who can stay home, how do you know when it’s safe to go back to work or school?
“How do you feel?” asks Roe. “Do you have a fever? Are you dizzy when you stand up? Are you coughing constantly? It’s a matter of letting your body heal.”
Roe says people come to the hospital expecting to get an antibiotic and get better. “If it’s viral — which a majority of this is — they aren’t going to get an antibiotic. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections.”
She says viral infections aren’t always affected by antibiotics, and administering them when they shouldn’t be is how multi-drug-resistant illnesses develop.
“We have patients who get quite upset when they aren’t given an antibiotic. Physicians know when to administer them.”
Roe says if you have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or fever, don’t go to work. If you’re dehydrated and can’t keep anything in, give yourself clear liquids — Pepsi and Mountain Dew are NOT considered clear liquids, she says. WATER is the ideal clear liquid, and don’t ‘chug’ it… it needs to come slowly and in sips. Otherwise your stomach won’t tolerate it. When you can tolerate water and want food, start with the ‘B.R.A.T.’ diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. No milk or dairy products, especially when you have diarrhea.
What can people do to protect themselves from catching the flu?
“Wash their hands,” Mattingly says bluntly. “When somebody coughs, Influenza ‘A’ particles can land on hard surfaces and live for hours.”
For instance, when you walk into a store after someone who has been coughing and handles the same carts, cooler handles, and items the coughing shopper did, you can pick up the germs. Then when you touch your eyes, face or mouth with those same hands, voila! You now have the virus in your system.
“It’s very easily spread,” Mattingly says. “So wash your hands and clean your surfaces.”
If the bug has already struck at your house, encourage the sick family member to cover their cough, and have everyone wash their hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. Using Clorox wipes on surfaces helps as well.
Health professionals recommend getting the flu vaccine in late September or early October so it will last about six months when it’s at its peak. MCH administers an attenuated vaccine: a dead virus. (It has been incubated but then killed.)
“If you are a younger person, they have the live nasal virus, which gets into a person’s system faster,” Mattingly explains, “so your body can recognize it and start building up antigens.”
With an attenuated virus, administered by injection, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. If you do get influenza, Mattingly says, it means you were exposed some time in the last 10 days. Flu shot recipients should also expect 10–14 days before you are fully protected. Every year there are new strains of Influenza A, and they may not be covered by the flu vaccine you took.
“It’s not too late to get your flu shot!” Hand emphasizes. “We have flu shots for those people 6 months and older here at the Health Department.”
Those interested in getting a flu shot can call the Health Department at 419–947-1545, ext 327. The cost of the vaccine varies on the type requested, but Hand says no one will be turned away for inability to pay. Pricing information can be found on the health department’s website at http://www.morrowcountyhealth.org.
“Be smart, vigilant and proactive so we don’t spread it,” Roe advises. “There are people who can’t fight it off.”