Shoo Flu: protecting patients and staff of St. Lukes

Published 2:31 pm Friday, November 13, 2009

With flu season upon us, and with the increasing number of H1N1 flu cases being seen at St. Lukes Hospital, its a good idea to gather the facts and learn as much about this H1N1 and the seasonal flu as you can.

The typical flu season runs from October through April, even May. During this time, hospitals and the Center for Disease Control issue warnings to our communities to caution about the spread and complications of influenza. This year, there is the added complication of the H1N1 flu.

The flu can often be much worse than the common cold, said Alison Owens, MD and Medical Director of St. Lukes Hospital ED. Colds will generally last a few days, while the flu can last much longer. Complications from colds are relatively minor, but seasonal flu and H1N1 can both lead to pneumonia and hospitalizations. If you have symptoms of complication, its important to see your doctor.

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The common cold and flu are both contagious viral infections. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Nasal congestion, sore throat and sneezing are common with colds. Both colds and flu bring coughing, headache and chest discomfort. With the flu, though, you are likely to run a high fever for several days and have headache, body aches, fatigue and weakness.

Whether a person has typical seasonal flu or H1N1 flu, the symptoms are also similar. Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. Symptoms of H1N1 flu and seasonal flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. H1N1 can also be associated with vomiting and diarrhea.

Despite precautions, many people will catch a cold or the flu this year, Dr. Owens said. If you become ill, the most important thing to do is stay home and rest so that you get well and you dont infect others. If you develop worsening of your condition or complications, it is important to seek additional medical attention.

If you come to St. Lukes Hospital seeking treatment from the flu, Dr. Owens wants to stress that the medications used to treat the flu (whether its seasonal or H1N1) are not curative but can lessen the severity of symptoms and decrease the duration of illness by about 24 hours.

The only people who will be tested specifically for H1N1 are those who are actually admitted to the hospitals with flu-like symptoms in all age groups. Any patients sent home will not need to be tested. Others who may be screened for influenza include those considered higher risk for complications:

Children under 2 years old

People over 65 years old

Pregnant women

People with certain chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, certain kidney or cardiovascular conditions, or those that are immunosuppressed

We already know that H1N1 is here in our community. Seasonal influenza typically surges later in the year, so anyone becoming ill at this point is assumed to have H1N1, which is simply another strain of influenza. The treatment is the same for both, said Dr. Owens.

Lori Rothell, RN and Infection Preventionist says, St. Lukes employees have been briefed about procedures regarding flu prevention according to CDC guidelines. We have posted visitation restrictions. No one under the age of 18 is to visit the hospital. The H1N1 strain of flu is especially widespread among children and teens. They can spread the virus before they feel or get sick. We know this restriction is difficult for families, but our first responsibility is to protect our patients. We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of the community in keeping our patients and the staff who care for them as healthy as we can.

We have also posted notices throughout St. Lukes with common sense steps all of us can take to avoid catching or spreading the flu, adds Rothell. These include thorough hand washing with soap or alcohol-based hand cleaners, covering coughs and, if required or advised, to wear surgical face masks. So far these procedures have worked extremely well at limiting the spread of H1N1 at St. Lukes.

Tips for Flu:

If you become ill with flu-like symptoms, Dr. Alison Owens recommends the following:

Stay home and avoid contact with other people, except to seek medical care.

Take antiviral drugs if prescribed when symptoms first appear to shorten the duration of illness.

Adults can use over-the-counter cold and flu medicines to get relief from fever and aches. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4.&bsp; Contact your doctor for advice regarding treatment of children under the age of 4.

Use decongestants and saline nasal sprays to open breathing passages to help you breathe.

Keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and juices. Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and colas that rob your body of fluids.