Dr. Jeff Board is the chief Quality Officer at Parkview Health.
Dr. Scott Stienecker is the Medical Director for Epidemiology and Infection Prevention at Parkview Health.
Are hospitals prepared for an increase in patients dealing with flu-like symptoms?
Dr. Board – Fortunately we’ve been able to mobilize additional capacity so we’ve been able to meet the demand that we’ve had.
Some hospitals near Indianapolis have had a high number of staff members get sick. Has Parkview experienced anything like that?
Dr. Board – By vaccinating the vast majority of our health care workers we help protect them from illness and as a result they can step up and serve during this time of greatest need.
Dr. Stienecker – Because we so heavily vaccinated our co-workers and had such good compliance, we saw most of those people had minimal illness. They were out for maybe half a day or a day. And then symptoms rapidly resolved and they were able to come back to work. Which is why we were able to maintain our workforce.
Is it true that you don’t have to cough or sneeze to spread the flu virus?
Dr. Board – The virus can be transferred from person to person even before the patient starts to develop symptoms of influenza. So one or two days prior to onset of illness you can be shedding virus and transmitting to others.
And that’s why its so important for us to have a very rigorous vaccination program. Because it helps to greatly reduce that risk of person to person transmission.
If you’ve already had the flu this season, can you get it again? Or are you immune till next year?
Dr. Stienecker – So if you’ve had the “A” strain and you suffered through it, that means you’re now immune to that one strain. There’s still the “Pandemic H1N1” circulating, and the two “B” strains. And all of them can make you sick or sicker because your body is now weakened from the first round. So yes. You can get sick again. Its not too late to get vaccinated. You should get vaccinated.
If your child is too young to communicate, what are the symptoms to look out for to determine if he/she has the flu?
Dr. Board – Fever, crying, reduced food intake, listlessness or lethargy. If the child is dehydrated they may have less urine output, as in fewer diaper changes. Young children and infants can sometimes have gastrointestinal symptoms but you generally do not see that in older children and adults. If the child is exhibiting symptoms and you are really worried about influenza, its important to contact your family doctor of pediatrician very promptly so early treatment can be initiated.
Can a child take Tami flu or anti-viral medications?
Dr. Board – Children can be treated very effectively with anti-viral medication to help reduce the duration and severity of influenza if that occurs.
What are some of the symptoms in adults?
Dr. Board – In an adult you’re going to have high fevers, muscle aches, headache, runny nose, cough or sneezing. And often those people will feel very listless.
What about diarrhea? Is that one of the symptoms?
Dr. Stienecker – If you have nausea vomiting and diarrhea, that’s probably norovirus, which we continue to see a lot of. It is not flu. Flu is a shortness of breath, pneumonia, lung disease, cough, that kind of thing.
I heard the vaccine isn’t very effective. Why should I bother getting it?
Dr. Board – We know that the vaccine greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization admission to an intensive care unit and death. Particularly in the patient populations that are at highest risk, such as young children and the elderly.
Dr. Stienecker – We’re not seeing a hospital full of admitted people who had the vaccine. We’re seeing a hospital full of people who were admitted because they did not get vaccinated.
Have we seen the peak of the flu season this year? Will it end soon?
Dr. Stienecker – This flu season seems to be prolonged. We have not seen the peak and fall like we normally do. We have seen a peak and stay. This is not going to be a season that starts early and finishes early. This has all the hallmarks of being a season that started early and stays late.
Why do secondary infections often go along with the flu?
Dr. Stienecker – If we happen to have other bacteria that are colonizing, just resting on our throats and lungs, they can then start to invade and take advantage where they couldn’t before. This is particularly true with pneumonia
How do you politely tell someone you don’t want to shake hands?
Dr. Board – Just communicate with them that you’ve chosen not to shake hands. Maybe you have a family member who is ill or just say “I’m just trying to stay well given that there is a lot of influenza in the community.”
So I think just sharing with people the “why” and just telling them it’s a hygiene measure given there’s a lot of influenza in the community, and you’re protecting them as well as them protecting you.
Is it true that the flu can cause heart attacks?
Dr. Stienecker – It can infect the heart and the nerves. So even though we think of it as a respiratory illness, we are starting to understand more that the risk of having a heart attack in the week you have the flu and the week after haveing the flu is over 20 times higher than any other time.
Any other important information we should know?
Dr. Board – Stay home from work or school if you’re sick. If you’re running a high fever it’s best to stay home. First of all to speed your recovery, and secondly to make sure you’re not spreading it to your classmates and co-workers. It is important to remember that influenza is a deadly illness.In the United States, it varies from year to year, but anywhere from 18 to 50 thousand Americans will lose their lives from influenza related illness.