Fairview urges informed decisions regarding influenza treatment

Proper procedures differ depending on risk factors


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, last week.

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,” explained Milbrandt. “Others may wait for a few hours.”

While hospital beds are tight across the metro area, as of late Friday afternoon, 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,” said Milbrandt, “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 (MDH), 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 two) 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 fall into a high-risk group (described above) and begin to experience flu symptoms, follow these guidelines:

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

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,” said Milbrandt, “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.

The center is restricting visitors to hospitalized patients to members of the immediate family only. Visiting family members must be free of influenza-like symptoms.  No child under age five will be permitted to visit a hospitalized patient. (Some exceptions may be made for healthy siblings of a healthy newborn.)

Visitors to the Birthplace are also restricted to healthy family members only. Birthplace visitors must be free of fever, cough, and cold symptoms as well as diarrhea or rash.

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