Flu Season is SURGING and is here to stay. What to do.

January 10, 2013 drdarria 0 Comments

Are you SICK of hearing me talk about the flu? Or are you just SICK from the flu? You’ve probably heard stories of hospitals being so full that they’re turning patients away in Chicago, or treating patients in tents in Pennsylvania, and both of the ED’s where I work have initiated “emergency overflow protocols” for the influx of patients.  It’s always a bad thing when the “emergency department” has its own “emergency”.  So, when I received a recent update from the MA Department of Health, I wanted to share it with you.

The ER’s are FULL of people with the flu–volumes are up 25-30% daily, and the DOH reports that this may continue for weeks to months–it’s possible that we’re not even halfway there yet.   Many of my patients have been asking me about this, so here are the latest facts (including why you may have still gotten sick, even if you got the vaccine).

  • ER volumes everywhere are up 20-30% daily, and hospitals are also similarly full, causing backup in the ER because there are so few available inpatient beds
  • The current surge in flu is expected to increase (nope, we’re not there YET) and last for at least weeks, if not a couple of months
  • This year’s strain of flu is particularly virulent, but IS covered by the vaccine.  As a result, some people who received the vaccine are getting the flu, but they are getting milder and shorter durations of symptoms than people not vaccinated.
  • The majority of the cases are Influenza A, which is stronger than Influenza B (and one of the reasons why we’re having breakthrough despite the vaccine)
  • The Department of Health still strongly advises vaccination, but keep in mind that it takes 2 weeks to work.  Given that the flu season is expected to last for a while, you still have time to benefit from it
  • Most strains are sensitive to medications such as Tamiflu, but you have to start it in the first 48 hours to be effective (so call your doctor when you first get symptom.  However, keep in mind that these medications only shorten the symptoms by 1-2 days, so this medication is recommended mainly for people at higher risk, such as children under 5 (especially under 2),  adults over 65, pregnant women, or people with chronic medical problems).
  • If you have the flu, don’t return to work until after 24 hours after your fever has resolved (without having to take anything for fever).  You may STILL be infectious after this however, so use scrupulous hand-washing and cough into your sleeve for at least 2-3 more days
  • Check out the MA Department of Public Health “FLU-What you can do” or CDC Flu website
  • Classic symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, sore throat, headache, nasal congestion and cough.  Go to the ER if you have difficulty breathing, a sore throat so severe that you are unable to swallow liquids, a severe headache with or without neck stiffness, or any other really frightening symptoms.  Otherwise, you should be able to convalesce at home and wont need the ER.
  • Home Treatment: For most adults, I recommend the following: (and note–i get no sponsorship from the following companies!!)
    • For fever/body aches/headache/sore throat:  Acetaminophen (tylenol) 650mg every 4-6 hours and Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) 600-800 mg every 8-12 hours
    • For nasal congestion:
      • Saline sprays – spray ample amount into nostrils, then blow out until you are able to clear congestion
      • Neti pot—accomplishes same as saline sprays, more effective (people swear by it), but some people find it uncomfortable
      • (topical spray) Afrin: great for constricting the vessels in the nostrils and decreasing swelling and congestion.  Do not use for more than 72 hours, as using it longer can cause rebound nasal congestion
      • Oral decongestants such as Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed–find it behind the pharmacy counter), or Phenylephrine (newest alternative to Pseudoephedrine)
    • Cough Suppressant: Dextrothorphan (Delsym), or Robitussin with Codeine (available via prescription)
    • Expectorant: thin the mucus in the air passages to facilitate coughing up the mucus and clearing airways: Guaifenesin (Robitussin, Mucinex, Vicks Dayquil Mucus Control)
    • If you’re having any nausea or vomiting, check out the link that I posted HERE

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