For Immediate Release:
January 9, 2013
Southcoast Health System advises the public on when to seek care for flu like symptoms
Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral medications. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider (doctor, physician's assistant, etc.).
Certain people are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications (including young children, elderly persons, pregnant women and people with certain long-term medical conditions). If you are in a high risk group and develop flu symptoms, it's best for you to contact your doctor. Remind them about your high risk status for flu.
Health care providers will determine whether influenza testing and possible treatment are needed. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs that can treat the flu. These drugs work better for treatment the sooner they are started.
Emergency Room care
The emergency room should be used for people who are very sick. You should not go to the emergency room if you are only mildly ill. If you have the emergency warning signs of flu sickness, you should go to the emergency room. If you get sick with flu symptoms and are at high risk of flu complications or you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice. If you go to the emergency room and you are not sick with the flu, you may catch it from people who do have it.
When to seek emergency care
Emergency warning signs in children:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
- Bluish skin color.
- Not drinking enough fluids.
- Not waking up or not interacting.
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held.
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
- Fever with a rash.
In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:
- Being unable to eat.
- Has trouble breathing.
- Has no tears when crying.
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
Emergency warning signs in adults:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
- Sudden dizziness.
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
Southcoast would like to remind the public that the best way to protect themselves, their family and the community is to get a seasonal flu vaccine.
"The best way to protect against the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year," said Robert J. Caldas, DO, Senior Vice President & Chief Medical Officer for Southcoast Health System.
The seasonal flu is a very serious and contagious disease of the respiratory system that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death, Dr. Caldas said.
"Every flu season is different and the flu can affect people in different ways," Dr. Caldas said. "Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and can spread it to others. Symptoms are often confused with the common cold, but are much more severe and potentially dangerous."
Receiving the annual flu vaccine is an effective way to reduce the chances of contracting the seasonal flu and lessen the chance that you will spread it to others.
"The more people that get vaccinated against the flu, the less the flu can spread throughout the community," Dr. Caldas said.
Southcoast recommends that anyone who has not yet received the vaccine, do so as soon as possible. It takes about two weeks after you have received the flu vaccination for it to provide protection against the flu.
This flu season, Southcoast is taking additional steps to keep the community safe by requiring all Southcoast employees and physicians to receive a flu vaccine annually or be required to wear a surgical mask while working within six feet of another individual. This includes all employees — not just those in our clinical areas — in all Southcoast locations and facilities.
"We are taking very important precautionary measures that will keep our patients, employees and visitors safe this flu season," Dr. Caldas said. "We also would like members of the community to know that if they see a staff member wearing a mask it is only a precautionary measure. Annual vaccinations for health care providers are an important step toward keeping our patients safe and employees healthy."
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health expects that 90 percent of all acute care hospital employees receive the flu vaccine, with no facility reporting less than 73 percent. According to the DPH, the intention of this goal is to advance patient safety by reducing the spread of influenza and to protect the health of both patients and health care workers.
The flu virus is spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land on people who are nearby. The flu may also be spread by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
The flu is highly contagious. Most healthy adults carrying the flu virus may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus without having any of the symptoms. During this time, those people may still spread the virus to others. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
The mask is required for those who do not receive the vaccine because the flu may be passed before a person knows they are sick.
Southcoast is also asking visitors to refrain from visiting the hospital if they are sick. If you must come to the hospital while you are sick, you will be asked to wear a mask, which will be provided at no charge at each of the main entrances and Emergency Department entrances.
Who should get vaccinated?
It is recommended that everyone who is at least 6 months of age or older get a flu vaccine. It is especially important for the most at risk people to get vaccinated. Those people include the following:
- People who are at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu.
- People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
- Pregnant women.
- People 65 years and older.
- People who live with or care for others who are high risk for developing serious complications.
- Household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
Who should not get vaccinated?
The following people should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician:
- People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
- People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.
- Children younger than 6 months of age.
- People with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome should consult with their doctor before obtaining a vaccine.
There are two types of seasonal flu vaccines available. The "flu shot" is an inactivated vaccine that is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. The nasal spray flu vaccine is a vaccines made with live, weakened flu viruses that is approved for use in healthy people 2 through 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
Flu vaccines are available in many locations including doctor's offices, clinics, urgent care center, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers and some schools. The Southcoast Health Van offers free flu vaccinations throughout the community. The Southcoast Health Van schedule can be found at www.southcoast.org/van/. You can also use the following Flu Vaccine Locator to find the nearest vaccine available in your area www.flunearyou.org.
More information about the flu can be found at www.southcoast.org/flu/.