Flu cases continue at high level

With an outbreak of the flu being reported throughout the area, the emergency departments at Camden Clark Medical Center have seen an influx of people over the past few days.

Hospital officials are reporting a high number of people with flu symptoms coming into the emergency departments at the Memorial Campus and St. Joseph’s Campus of the medical center.

“This year’s flu season is more severe than last season’s,” said Dr. Anthony W. Kitchen, director of Emergency Medicine at the Memorial Campus of the Camden Clark Medical Center.

The levels are not as high as the year of the H1N1 epidemic.

“It is nothing like that, but our emergency department has been overcrowded,” Kitchen said.

Susan Abdella, director of the Emergency Department for the Camden Clark Medical Center, said the situation has almost been at a crisis level.

At times there have been so many people, medical personnel from other departments have been brought in to help see patients, she said.

“It has been a hospital-wide effort to make this work,” she said.

In many cases, coming to the hospital exposes other people to the viruses that cause the flu, Kitchen said.

“In terms of visiting the emergency department with the flu, most folks don’t need to come to the emergency department at all,” he said. “Most flu is self-limited and it goes away on its own.

“The best we can do, from a medical science standpoint, is treat the symptoms. We can’t kill the flu. We can’t kill the virus that causes it, but we can treat the symptoms.”

Treatments can be done through the primary care physician offices and over-the-counter medications. People are advised to see their own doctors or seek out an urgent care facility for general flu symptoms.

People who are normally healthy who develop flu-like symptoms are usually urged to treat the symptoms with over-the-counter remedies, such as Tylenol, Motrin, Robitussin DM for body aches and the general feeling of being ill. Some doctors have prescribed Tamiflu, but its effectiveness can be limited, officials said.

“People also need to rest and drink plenty of fluids,” Kitchen said.

People who should come to the emergency room for the flu are those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, lung disease or whose immune system is compromised, officials said.

“Some people have chronic conditions that will worsen as a result of the flu,” Kitchen said. “People, like diabetics, tend to have a more severe course.”

Other situations that may require immediate medical atten tion can include a severe shortness of breath and a fever. People who develop pneumonia may need to come to the emergency room, officials said.

In many cases, the severe patients are either very young or old.

“The overwhelming majority of people will not have to come to the emergency department,” Kitchen said. “We would say the emergency room is for those folks in an emergency situation.”

With a lot of people appearing with flu symptoms at both campuses, Abdella said this is not the time for others, especially young children, to visit family members and friends in the hospital.

“Don’t bring the children,” she said. “You don’t know what they could be carrying in and you don’t know what the person in the next room has. They don’t need it.”

The medical center is seeing Influenza A and B. A is the flu seen mostly during flu season while B can appear anytime.

“We are getting a mixture of both,” Kitchen said. “There is a lot of A, but more B than I am used to seeing at this time of year.”

Flu prevention starts with good hygiene, including washing one’s hands, he said. If someone coughs or sneezes, the person should use a tissue and discard it.

Kitchen said people need to maintain clean surfaces where they work, primarily their desktops and telephones.

“The flu is spread by respiratory droplets,” he said. “If someone coughs on their hand and they shake your hand and you touch your eyes, nose or mouth you can get it.”