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Influenza A flu strain spreading across the country

SPRINGVILLE — The coughing, the shakes, the aches and the sneezing. While the flu season descended upon Western New York on Nov. 1 – earlier than doctors said is typical – the illness is continuing to spread, throughout the area.

Bertrand Chaffee Hospital Infection Prevention Nurse Barbara Hager, RN, said that local doctor’s offices and pharmacies were equipped with the flu shot, as well as the means to treat sick patients, beginning in October.

Doctors typically expect the flu to rear its head, beginning in January, depending on the strain. This year saw a high number of individuals’ suffering from flu influenza A, both locally and across the United States.

“It’s nothing we can’t handle,” Hager said, adding that, while patients exhibited flu symptoms earlier in the season than normal, the number of individuals who tested positive for the sickness was not unusually high. BCH treats patients with the anti-viral medication Tamiflu®, which must be obtained from a doctor.

BCH’s lab has processed a total of 30 – 35 positive flu cases in the community and five or six individuals were admitted for observation and treatment, which Hager said is in keeping with last year’s numbers. “We don’t see a lot of children,” she said. “Mostly adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s and some elderly people. Maybe people are just not coming in and are treating themselves at home.”

Hager added that older flu patients are often admitted to the hospital, because they “need more supportive care; they have a hard time staving sickness off.”

Springville Pediatrics Pediatrician Debra Ehrig said that the Center for Disease Control and the health department do not recommend testing everybody who presents with flu-like symptoms. “They advise using clinical judgment, for the most part,” she said. “Unless you have a prolonged fever or significant respiratory symptoms, you can care for yourself at home.”

A flu test is done by swapping the inside of a patient’s nose. Results from the BCH lab are typically returned within 20 minutes.

Not every individual who has flu-like symptoms is tested for the flu. Hager said patients with this viral infection are treated the same as patients with the common cold. “We advise supportive care,” she said. That treatment includes resting, drinking fluids and taking aspirin or acetaminophen.

Flu symptoms include fever, sneezing, coughing, congestion, headaches, a sore throat, chills, body aches and fatigue. Hager said that patients who experience nausea and vomiting should visit their doctor, as those symptoms could indicate dehydration. She also recommended that patients see a doctor, if they have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness or confusion.

According to the CDC, those infected with the flu can begin spreading the virus as early as the day before they start exhibiting symptoms and continuing through day five or seven. “We recommend that people stay home at least 24 hours after their fever is gone,” Hager said. “Everybody’s different; it’s a gamble.”

“Cover your mouth when you cough,” Ehrig said. “Don’t use your hand; use the crook of your elbow. In general, eliminate contact with others, as much as possible. Stay home. If you have a fever, call into work. Take care of yourself with rest and fluids. The more you do, the sicker you’ll get.”

Doctors at Springville Pediatrics and at BCH recommended that everyone 6 months and older receive a flu shot, as early in the season as possible. Those shots are available, beginning in October. “We really stress getting the shot,” Hager said. “It’s much safer than getting the flu.”

The flu shot takes approximately two weeks to take effect. While Hager advised that the shot could cause some body aches, especially in the arm, for a few hours after it is administered, she said that all symptoms should quickly dissipate. “This is not the flu,” she said. “It’s just a small reaction to the shot.”

While people who have had the flu shot may still contract a lighter version of the flu, Hager said their symptoms will be minor, at best. She added that the only people who should not get a flu shot are those who have had severe allergic reactions to flu shots in the past or those who are allergic to eggs.

“The one drawback with people getting the shot is that they don’t like needles,” Hager said. “Here, [at Bertrand Chaffee Hospital], we use very small needles. Our employees typically say that they can’t even feel it.”

BCH offers the flu shot to its employees and to existing in-patients. Hager reported that 90 percent of the hospital’s staff members have received the shot.

The flu shot is available at Rite Aid, the Wal-Mart pharmacy, Springville Pediatrics (which is currently accepting new patients) and at the BCH Primary Care Center. The Concord Medical Group offers the shot to its existing patients.

Ehrig and Hager both advised exercising preventative measures to avoid contracting the flu. “Good hand-washing is the No. 1 precaution,” Ehrig said. Hager advised utilizing hand sanitizer, in between hand washings. “Avoid touching your nose and mouth and avoid close contact with sick people,” she said. “The main thing is to not spread it.”

The CDC, the New York State Department of Health and the Erie County Department of Health are monitoring the number of local individuals with flu-like symptoms. Hager said she reports a daily surveillance of patients’ presenting with those symptoms, as well as the number of individuals admitted with flu-like symptoms, every week. “They follow their statistics that way; that’s how they stay on top of things,” she said.

While Hager said that New York City, Boston and Buffalo are reporting increasing numbers of flu sufferers, she said that she hopes Western New York has hit its peak. “I’m hoping it comes down, but we do have an emergency preparedness protocol in place, in case we do get a big influx in the ER,” Hager said. “If a lot come in, we can designate a separate waiting area.”

The hospital can hold up to 24 patients. Hager said those who are admitted with flu or respiratory symptoms are put into isolation and into private rooms, as much as possible, to avoid spreading illness to other patients.

Bertrand Chaffee Hospital is located at 224 East Main St. in Springville. To contact the primary care center, call 592-8140.

Springville Pediatrics is located at 25 East Main St. For more information, call 592-2832.

Concord Medical Group may be reached by contacting 592-3600. Call the Rite Aid pharmacy at 592-2836 or the Wal-Mart pharmacy at 592-1465.
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