Mt. Vernon Register-News

January 12, 2013

Officials recommend precautions to prevent flu

By RORYE O’CONNOR
rorye.oconnor@register-news.com

MT. VERNON — — The Jefferson County Health Department administered its last doses of adult flu vaccinations on Friday, said Director of Nursing Becky Brooks.

The health department is referring those interested in getting their flu shot to locations where they are still available, Brooks said; children which qualify for VFC can still be inoculated against influenza at the health department.

Brooks said interest in flu shots skyrocketed this week after the increased flu activity across the country hit the news.

“Really in the beginning, it was normal,” she said. “The last couple days, it’s been in the news, and we gave 50 doses this week.”

Brooks said the vaccine should be effective against influenza, but that it seems like people are getting the flu earlier than they have in previous years.

However, she said the area doesn’t seem to have gotten hit as hard as other places in Illinois and the U.S. yet.

“We’ve been really fortunate in Jefferson County, I think,” she said.

Deanna Metje, head nurse at City Schools District 80, said only one confirmed case of influenza has been seen at the Primary Center thus far, but several students went home sick today.

“We’re asking parents to please, if their children are running a temperature, to keep them home, and that’s without medication,” she said. “They need to stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever has broke without medication.”

She said frequent hand washing is how school staff are helping to prevent influenza spreading at school.

Mt. Vernon Township High School head nurse Debbie Wease did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Local emergency departments are not seeing the influx of influenza patients reported across the country, but prevention is key to keeping it that way.

The Illinois Department of Public Health states to reduce the spread of influenza and other contagious diseases, it is always important to practice the three Cs —

n Clean — properly wash your hands frequently;

n Cover — cover your cough and sneeze, and;

n Contain — contain your germs by staying home if you are sick.

Brooks said those who haven’t yet should still try to get a flu shot, and those who think they may have the flu should stay home. If someone thinks they might be getting the flu, they should call their doctor to get started on anti-viral medications, since those only work if the sickness is caught early.

“If your kids are sick, make them (stay home),” she said. “Cover your nose and mouth with tissue if you sneeze or cough. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.”

Additionally, she suggested doing a little bit more disinfecting at home, especially on often-touched areas like doorknobs.

People at highest risk for contracting influenza are children younger than five years old, adults older than 65, pregnant women and individuals with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease, according to information from Debi Richardson, Crossroads Community Hospital director of marketing and public relations.

Everyone six months of age and older should get an annual flu shot, particularly those at high risk of complications, information states.

Though flu patients aren’t hitting the emergency departments, that doesn’t mean local hospitals aren’t extremely busy — Good Samaritan Regional Health Center reached diversion or bypass status in the early afternoon Jan. 8, after 110 beds were filled.  

Diversion or bypass status, as defined by the State of Illinois guidelines, occurs when there are 2 or less monitored beds in a health care facility, information states.

“Our mission is to take care of patients, so naturally, we take all appropriate steps to avoid diversion status,” said Jan Becherer, Vice President of Patient Care Services for Good Samaritan Regional Health Center. “When we reach the point of pre-diversion, we hold brief meetings throughout the day with physicians and nursing supervisors to understand which patients might be ready for discharge, which beds might become available, and take any appropriate action to make the hospital available to patients in need.”  

During this diversion, influenza accounted for a minimal amount of presenting patient cases, information states. Good Samaritan Regional Health Center was on diversion for a little more than 24 hours, with the last diversion at the hospital occurring May 2011.

There are not significantly more influenza patients visiting the Crossroads Community Hospital emergency department than is typical for this time of year, information states.

“Crossroads Community Hospital is committed to providing a safe environment for patient care,” information states. “We follow industry guidelines for infection control to prevent transmission of infectious agents and encourage all employees to be vaccinated against the flu to help ensure patient safety and protection, especially for patients at increased risk for influenza-related complications.”

Crossroads doesn’t currently have any visitor restrictions in place.

“We do ask visitors to stay home if they are sick to avoid bringing additional germs to their family or friends who are hospitalized and at increased risk of illness,” information states.

 Symptoms of the flu include sore throat, high fever, cough, body aches and feeling fatigued, information states.

“The majority of people suffering from the flu simply need to stay home, rest, use over-the-counter remedies as needed and let the flu run its course,” information from the Illinois Department of Public Health states. “Several hospital emergency departments have recently had to refer patients with such symptoms to other hospitals as they were at capacity.”

Public health departments continue to see an increase in flu activity across the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“The flu strain that is predominately circulating this year is typically more severe, with more hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Illinois Department of Public Health director. “From the beginning of October through the end of December, we’ve seen almost 150 people admitted to hospital intensive care units with influenza-like illness. There have also been six flu-related deaths of ICU patients. This compares to last year at this time when there were only two ICU hospitalizations and no deaths.”

Hasbrouck said many more people are going to hospital emergency departments due to the increased flu activity. He said many hospitals have had to redirect all but the most critical patients to other hospitals because they don’t have enough room or staff to see patients.

He said sick people should see a doctor before going to the emergency department.

“The majority of people suffering from the flu simply need to stay home, rest and let the flu run its course,” he said. “Typically only people with severe respiratory illness who have trouble breathing need to visit a hospital emergency department.”

Hasbrouck said it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

“The flu season normally runs through March and sometimes later. If you do get the flu, the vaccine can also reduce the amount of time you’re sick and the severity of symptoms. By getting vaccinated, you can also help protect infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases who are at greatest risk for complications due to the flu.”