Influx of influenza seen here

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Adult “flu” cases are being reported at the Andalusia Regional Hospital emergency room, and health care workers are reminding residents to seek a physician’s care at the first sign of symptoms.

Candie Northey, ARH’s infectious disease director, said three cases were reported Tuesday night alone.

“And who knows how many have been seen in local doctor’s offices in the county,” Northey said. “Many physicians can do a test right there in their office, but when we start seeing cases in our emergency room, it means that people are waiting until symptoms get too bad before seeking medical attention.”

She said that is not the best approach for influenza — also known as the “flu” — a virus passed from person to person through direct contact. Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose and muscle aches. The virus usually lasts for about a week, she said.

“What that means is that if someone has the flu, and they cough or sneeze, those droplets are released,” she said. “So if you touch something and are nearby, you could catch it.

“So, if you start experiencing symptoms, go to your local doctor,” she said. “If you can catch it in the first 24 hours, there are antivirals that you can take that will shorten the length of the virus and help with the symptoms.”

But the best defense against the flu is a flu shot, she said.

“We recommend getting a flu shot every year,” she said. “Of the preventative measures you can take, like avoiding heavily populated places at peak flu times, getting the flu vaccine is your best.”

In addition to the flu, Northey said the hospital is seeing an increase in the number of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) cases. The Centers for Disease Control describes RSV as a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. Most otherwise healthy people recover from RSV infection in one to two weeks; however, the infection can be severe in some people, such as certain infants, young children and older adults.

“In fact, the CDC says RSV is the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in children under one in the United States,” she said. “And in a small child, bronchitis and pneumonia are very scary things.”

In adults, RSV presents itself like a common cold, she said.

“It’s a virus, just like the flu,” she said. “It’s found in the secretions like saliva and in the nose and can live for hours on toys, countertops and clothes — that’s why it spreads so easily. Careful hand washing is the key to limiting its spread.”

Additionally, like flu, it peaks in February and March.

“If you or your child or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek the advice of your medical professional,” Northey said.