Number of flu cases up in South Hills

Published Jan 9, 2013 at 11:17 am (Updated Jan 9, 2013 at 11:17 am)

Dr. Wayne Ludkiewicz is very happy he had a flu shot in the fall.

As an emergency department physician at St. Clair Hospital, Ludkiewicz has, at least so far, escaped contracting influenza from the 10 confirmed cases he sees in the emergency room every day.

When asked at what point someone with flu symptoms should become concerned for their heath and seek medical attention, Ludkiewicz was quick to say with a slight chuckle, “They should have been concerned enough in the fall to get a flu shot.”

Guillermo Cole, public information officer with the Allegheny County Health Department, said there are definitely cases of influenza prevalent in the region, but that there are also other “bugs” floating around infecting the public.

“Reports from hospital emergency rooms regarding influenza-like illness are on the rise and have been increasing in recent weeks from a baseline of three percent. Last week, it was six percent of the patients being seen in the emergency rooms,” Cole said.

There was an increase in influenza activity in all regions of Pennsylvania at the end of December, so the Pennsylvania Department of Health terms the current flu activity as “widespread.” Flu has been reported in every county in the commonwealth.

Stomach, digestive and intestinal involvement is not usually attributed to having the flu and is more gastrointestinal, rather than the upper respiratory symptoms generally found with the flu.

Influenza is mainly respiratory, fever, headaches, chills, fatigue and even then, there could be an upset stomach.

Cole suggests contacting the family physician before rushing to the urgent care centers, such as the emergency room.

Ludkiewicz said the emergency department at St. Clair is “getting mobbed.” He urges those with mild symptoms to treat with Tylenol and to take in lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.

“Most people recover,” he said, but cautioned if the symptoms worsen, seek medical attention especially for the very young, those over the age of 65 or those with other medical conditions.

Cole agreed.

“For a more severe illness, and it depends on the person and severity of the illness, it can lead to pneumonia,” Cole said. “It can be serious and in some cases, life threatening. You need to contact your health-care provider and they will guide you.”

Having a flu shot is not a sure way to avoid the flu, however.

“It can help prevent or lead to a lesser case, but it’s not 100 percent effective,” Cole said.

He urged those who have not had the immunization to get one as soon as possible, especially the elderly, those with chronic illnesses or the very young.

Ludkiewicz called last flu season “lean,” with Cole adding this year is different.

“It started earlier than normal,” Cole said. “And it could peak earlier than normal in late January or early February.” But the only thing predicable about the flu is it’s unpredictability.

The best way to treat the flu is to avoid getting it. Hand washing is important, covering the mouth with a sleeve when a tissue is not handy, and avoid touching the eyes, nose and throat after coming in contact with a contaminated surface.

And if the flu symptoms start, Ludkiewicz said there are anti-viral medications available, such as Tamiflu or Relenza, but the prescriptions need to be taken within the first 48 hours of the onset. Most insurances cover both the flu shot and swabs to test for the flu.

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