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Flu is in the air

Cory Fisher

If you haven’t had to call in sick this season, consider yourself lucky.

Emergency and doctors’ waiting rooms across California and Nevada are filled with the sound of coughs and sneezes – a true sign that not all is well in the viral department.

“We’ve been slammed,” said Dr. Paul Marlowe of Stateline Medical Center. “Within the past three weeks it just seems to have hit us like a plane wreck.”

Since the holidays, Marlowe’s office has been packed with those complaining of high fevers, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, chills, malaise, congestion and painful coughs.

“There has been a very large increase in flu-like illness reported throughout the state,” said Virginia Vargas, nurse epidemiologist for the El Dorado County Health Department in Placerville.

Barton Memorial Hospital is no exception.

“We’re pretty full with the onslaught of the flu – so is everyone else,” said Barton’s emergency room Nurse Manager Mary Flores. “We’re getting calls from other hospitals asking about our bed capacity. It’s usually the elderly who end up with secondary complications like pneumonia.”

Cases of pneumonia, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections and viruses other than the flu are also contributors to crammed emergency rooms. Many seeking treatment are uninsured or unable to afford a visit to a private doctor, an ongoing dilemma for emergency personnel that is only exacerbate by the flu season.

Many ailments contracted this time of year can become serious for those with chronic illness such as respiratory problems, diabetes or heart conditions, Flores said.

Health care professionals say many bugs this year appear to be unusually stubborn, with some lasting from seven to 14 days.

“The main advice I can offer is to wash off after being exposed to lots of people,” Marlowe said. “People tend to shower in the morning, but it makes more sense to shower in the evening after being inside with other people all day.”

Marlowe said improved insulation in most buildings is one major cause for a rise in infectious diseases within the past 20 years.

“You’re breathing more of what’s exhaled,” he said. “Airplanes are the worst.”

Prevention tips from health care workers include washing hands regularly, covering your mouth when coughing, avoiding rubbing your eyes and nose, and exercising regularly.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of people with the flu,” said Zephyr Medical Center nurse Edel Langlois. “This year, many are coming back with reoccurring symptoms. We’ve also had complaints of a painful chest – so painful that some people are afraid to cough.”

Those who experience a persistent, dry cough or sore throat, severe body aches or a long-lasting temperature higher than 101 – especially infants and the elderly – should seek medical care. Otherwise, bed rest and drinking lots of water or juice are highly recommended.

“Dehydration is one of the biggest problems,” Flores said. “Those who are sick should definitely increase their fluid intake.”

California public health programs in October and November were responsible for the inoculation of thousands against influenza A, which has generally turned out to include strains that are now emerging. Reliable statistics are not available, however, as the flu is not considered a reportable disease. While vaccines are credited for staving off the flu for some, others who have received the shot may still get sick, but with minimal symptoms.

Getting a flu shot now, said Marlowe, would probably be too late, as it is known to take several weeks before taking hold.

“The hammer always falls the second week in December,” Marlowe said. “Just don’t inhale this time of year.”


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