Monday, December 30, 2013

Influenza Cases On the Rise in Pennsylvania


 Blog contributed by Dr. Joseph Cincotta, primary care physician

Flu season has arrived!!  And, there is still time for you to get your annual Flu Vaccine.

Pennsylvania is experiencing a rising number of cases of acute influenza, most of which is due to the H1N1 virus strain – a strain that is in this year’s influenza vaccine. So, if you get vaccinated timely you should have increased protection from getting ‘The Flu’.

Why are we so concerned about this infection?  Acute Influenza is NOT the same as getting ‘a bad cold’.  Acute Influenza can be a deadly disease – even for otherwise healthy individuals.  Comments like ‘I usually don’t get sick’, or ‘This will never happen to me’, or ‘The risk of a flu shot is more than the risk of me getting sick from the flu’ are examples of comments I have had from patients who decline an annual flu shot.  And, each of these comments leaves those patients who decline the opportunity to get immunized vulnerable to a deadly infection.  So, first and foremost – GET VACCINATED – AND DO IT TODAY.

Other ways to reduce your risk of getting Influenza include:
  • Avoid crowded areas
  • Wash your hands regularly, or use an alcohol based hand cleanser, regularly
  • Cover your mouth if you are coughing or sneezing – the Flu virus is spread by microscopic droplets when people cough or sneeze
  • If you are sick, stay home – do not expose others to your illness
Influenza (or ‘The Flu’) is characterized by the rapid onset of a number of symptoms that may be severe. People who get ‘the flu’ often tell us they were fine in the morning but by the afternoon they felt terrible and had developed a number of the symptoms detailed blow.  Flu generally does not come on slowly over the course of a couple of days.  Symptoms include:
  • Fever (which often can be quite high)
  • Headache (which often can be severe)
  • Muscle/body aching (which often is severe)
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Sore Throat
  • Cough
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea (not as common as the other symptoms and less common in adults with the flu)
If you feel you have ‘The Flu’, please contact your primary care physician’s office for additional recommendations.  You may be asked to go to the office for an evaluation, particularly if you have other chronic illnesses, such as COPD, emphysema, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Depending on your particular situation you may be eligible for an antiviral medication to help treat the flu. Other measures you can take to help treat some of your symptoms include:
  • Rest
  • Maintain a good fluid intake
  • Acetaminophen for the fever and aching (as long as you may take this medication)
Here are some warning signs that the illness may be more severe and may require the assistance of your primary care provider for treatment (these are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website):

What are the 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
In adults
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Influenza season is here once again – and we all can take steps to reduce our risk of this serious illness.

Follow the steps outlined above – and, most of all please get your Flu Vaccine, if you have not already done so.  Thank you.

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