Penn Highlands Healthcare Offers Flu Prevention Tips

The Centers for Disease Control announced that widespread influenza, or flu, cases are on the rise in 24 states, including Pennsylvania. And our area is not immune.

“Since Christmas, all four Penn Highlands Healthcare hospitals have started to see an increase in Influenza A patients – both inpatient and outpatient,” Sue Stiner, MSN, RN, Inpatient Dialysis, and Infection Prevention and Control director at Penn Highlands DuBois, said.

There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Influenza A includes the subtypes, H1N1 and H3N2, and “locally this year, a type of H1N1 has been prevalent,” Beth Keth, RN, BSN, Organizational Performance Improvement and Patient Safety Officer of Penn Highlands Brookville, said.

Symptoms usually show up abruptly, unlike a cold that slowly comes upon us. The symptoms are:

  • Body aches;
  • Fever;
  • Headaches;
  • Sore throat;
  • Cough;
  • Exhaustion;
  • Minor congestion;
  • Possible vomiting and diarrhea, but mostly in children.

“Most people who get flu will recover in a few days - usually less than two weeks,” Rhonda Chilson RN, director of Quality Assessment and Infection Control at Penn Highlands Elk, said But those who are over age 65, under age 5, pregnant women and those with medical issues may have complications, such as pneumonia, as a result of flu, which can be life-threatening and result in death.

“Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle, and organ failure, such as respiratory and kidney failure,” Debra Thomas, RN, BSN, MHA, chief nursing officer for Penn Highlands Clearfield and Penn Highlands Brookville, said. “Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse, cause dehydration and allow the body to be more likely to get an infection, including sepsis.”

What can you do? If you can’t avoid going in public – which eventually, most of us must do – take precautions.

If you are medically allowed to get a flu shot, get one. Even if it doesn’t stop the flu for you, it can lessen your symptoms of it. It can also protect those around you that cannot be vaccinated. Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after a vaccination for the vaccine to really start protecting you, so getting a flu shot now would be helpful later.

In the meantime and always, wash your hands regularly or use sanitizer often. Keep your distance from those who are ill. Be mindful of touching objects – grocery store carts, items in public places, restroom door handles – and then touching your face.

If you do get the flu, the best advice is to stay home and rest. You can treat flu symptoms with and without medication. Over-the-counter medications may relieve some symptoms. “Remember, antibiotics do not help fight viruses,” Keth said. “Only if your flu has led you to get a bacterial infection – such as a lung, ear or sinus infection – you may get an antibiotic.”

Drink plenty of clear fluids to stay hydrated. If you have a fever, put a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead. Use a humidifier to help breathe better. Gargle with warm salt-water for a sore throat, and cover yourself with warm blankets for the chills.

Stay away from others even at home, and try to use disposable utensils, cups and plates to keep your germs away from others. Be sure to wash your hands regularly or use sanitizer so you do not spread your illness to others. Always cover your sneezes and coughs, and throw away all tissues in the trash.

“Please don’t spread your illness at work, school, church, the mall, the grocery store or anywhere,” Chilson said. “You can infect others one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after symptoms appear. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be contagious for a longer period, according to the CDC.”

Wait until you have been fever free for 24 hours - without taking fever-reducing medicines - to return to work or school or to attend any public function. Remember, no medication makes you less contagious.

There will be those who will need to seek medical advice from their healthcare providers, especially those who are at higher risk of complications from influenza. It is the recommendation of the state Department of Health that all hospitalized, severely ill and high-risk patients with suspected or laboratory confirmed influenza should be treated with antiviral medications. Its benefit is greatest when antiviral treatment is administered as early as possible after illness onset.

For others, we ask you to not go to the Emergency Department with the flu unless you have signs of concern. They can include:

  • Fast or troubled breathing, or shortness of breath;
  • Bluish or gray skin color;
  • Not drinking enough liquids, especially in children or older adults;
  • Severe or persistent vomiting;
  • Not waking up or interacting, especially in children.

Also, during this time, the hospitals ask those with flu-like symptoms not to visit. “Sharing time with a loved one is great,” Stiner said. “Sharing the flu is not. Please consider the other person’s health and those around him or her – staff, other visitors and patients.”

If you wish to send a message to one of our hospital patients, Penn Highlands offers the option of e-cards through its website at www.phhealthcare.org/ecards. A free service, you can send an e-card with one of the pictures to pick from and a message. E-cards are printed and then hand delivered by a staff to the patient.