Tri-State flu outbreak continues

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 12, 2003

For Dr. Clay Young, work has been anything but typical after this year's early flu season hit his workplace - hard.

"We've had record-setting weekends and days," the King's Daughters Medical Center emergency medicine physician said.

During the last few days, the KDMC census has dramatically increased, said Julie Marsh, public relations specialist for the hospital. Wednesday, the hospital had 400 patients - and 366 beds. Patients were placed in emergency room beds until beds in regular patient rooms were opened. The mobile health unit was parked in front of the hospital to provide extra emergency room care from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Now, everything is "back to normal" at the hospital, but KDMC will still offer Sunday hours from 1-6 p.m. at the Family Care Center in Catlettsburg, Ky.

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In the emergency and waiting rooms, KDMC is offering surgical masks, and encouraging everyone to cover coughs and sneezes and use antibacterial hand gels, Marsh said. Also, she encouraged people to be patient with the health care industry as a whole during this busy time.

"We're asking people to be patient. Waits will be longer and pharmacies are very busy," she said. "We're all doing the best that we can."

Marsh also encouraged those with very minor emergencies to possibly wait for a scheduled visit with a family physician, particularly those without a respiratory illness because they may expose themselves to the flu in the ER. However, those with severe symptoms, especially people with co-existing conditions such as heart disease or diabetes need immediate attention, she said.

Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital's Urgent Care Center in Ironton has been a busy place as well.

"Probably half of the people we see every day have the flu or flu-like symptoms," said Dr. Karl Valentine, an urgent care physician. "We ran out of vaccines at 11 a.m. today, and we're not able to get any more."

St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, W.Va., is encouraging people to refrain from visiting the facility unless seeking treatment.

"We are nearing capacity in our patient rooms," said Dan Londeree, medical center spokesman. "Not all cases are the flu, but it is a large contributor, that's for sure."

Londeree said hospital officials are asking anyone wanting to visit patients in the hospital to "think twice about it and possibly stay at home." Healthy people coming to visit are likely to come in contact with patients and other visitors and be exposed. Likewise, a visitor with the flu could expose physicians, staff and members of the public. However, someone needing treatment is still encouraged to come to the hospital, he said.

One reason for this year's busy flu season is because this year's vaccine was designed for a different strain than what has actually stricken several flu patients, Young said.

"It will probably continue to be bad for some time," Young said.

The difference between a cold and a flu, Young said, is that colds are characterized by low-grade temperatures, generally with a maximum temperature of 101. The flu is characterized by a sudden onset, a temperature of 102 or higher, "aching all over" and a dry cough. Healthy teenagers and adults could possibly take over-the-counter medications to combat the illness and seek treatment later. However, the very young and very elderly and those with chronic illnesses need immediate attention, he said.

Vaccines are still available at Family Care Centers, but are limited in supply, Young said. He encouraged those without the vaccine to get it because it provides some protection.

However, Valentine said late December is the last ideal time to get the vaccine, and the vaccine takes four to five weeks to take effect. September through October is the ideal time to have it, he said. He did note that the flu can be a deadly illness, and an outbreak has not occurred in three to four years.