Flu cases flood local medical center

Fairview Lakes Medical Center reports influx of patients with influenza-like illness, offers tips and options for care

A surge in influenza cases is crowding Fairview Lakes Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

“In the past two weeks, our urgent care numbers have doubled with cases of people reporting influenza-like illness,” said Dave Milbrandt, MD, emergency department medical director and vice president of medical affairs at Fairview Lakes Medical Center, Wyoming.

The medical center’s Emergency Department (ED) and Urgent Care Clinic are experiencing high volumes of influenza-related patients which, in some instances, are resulting in long waits. “People who are very sick have the highest priority of being seen quickly,” Milbrandt explained. “Others may wait for a few hours.”

While hospital beds are tight across the metro area, as of late Friday afternoon, Jan. 4, Milbrandt said that Fairview Lakes Medical Center was still able to admit patients. Only a small percentage of influenza patients need to be hospitalized.

“Most people with influenza do not need to be admitted to the hospital,” Milbrandt noted. “But the disease is a ‘trigger’ for people with asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).  Also at high risk are the elderly, people who are immune-suppressed, and those who use steroids.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, other groups considered high risk for developing complications of influenza are people with cardiovascular disease (except hypertension alone), liver or renal disease, muscular dystrophy, seizure disorders, stroke, women who are pregnant or within two weeks post partum (after childbirth), those who are developmentally delayed, the very obese, and residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities.

People in these groups, along with the very young (under age 2) and those over age 65 and their caregivers, have priority for receiving antiviral medications.

“Antivirals, like Tamiflu®, can lessen the severity and duration of the illness, but, to be effective, antivirals must be given as soon as possible — no more than 48 hours after the first symptoms,” said Milbrandt. “Most of the people we’re seeing have already been sick longer than that.”


If you get the flu

If you fall into a high-risk group (described above) and begin to experience flu symptoms:

• Contact your primary care physician’s office as soon as possible to determine if you qualify to receive an antiviral medication.

• If you don’t have a primary physician, or can’t contact your clinic, Fairview’s online appointment option could save you a long wait in the ED or Urgent Care. Anyone age 13 or older who needs to be treated for a minor health condition can go to www.fairview.zipnosis.com and complete a survey about their symptoms. (No web camera is needed.) A qualified clinician will respond with your diagnosis and a prescription, if appropriate, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week. The fee is $25.

(The online appointment option may also be useful to people experiencing other minor health problems who don’t want to risk contracting the flu by waiting in the emergency room or a doctor’s office.)

Also, not everyone who has the flu needs to see a doctor.

“Staying home if you have the flu reduces the health risks to yourself and others,” Milbrandt noted. “Normally healthy people who get the flu will eventually recover on their own.” This may take a week or more.

If you have flu symptoms and don’t fall into a high risk group:

• Stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids.

• Treat flu symptoms with Tylenol or Motrin and other over-the-counter medications.

• Leave home and return to work only after you have been fever-free for 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medications.

When should someone with influenza-like symptoms seek medical care?

• If they experience shortness of breath or serious respiratory difficulty.

• If they cannot eat and drink.

• If after five to seven days they are feeling no better or are feeling worse.

“We have seen people who start feeling better and then develop bacterial pneumonia,” said Milbrandt. “If after a week you’re not getting better or are having difficulty breathing, then come in. Otherwise the best bet for most flu patients is to stay home because there’s not much anyone can do.”

To prevent spread of influenza:

• Get a flu shot if you haven’t already done so.

• Wash your hands often.

• Sanitize surfaces that are touched frequently.

• Cover your cough, and discard soiled tissues promptly.

Fairview Lakes Medical Center is adhering to Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for care and treatment of the flu. For more information, go to http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/flu/basics/index.html.

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