New Castle News

February 1, 2014

Precautions can help people avoid getting flu

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Besides battling brutal weather, there’s another winter demon to contend with.

We’re in the middle of the flu season.

Health officials at both Lawrence County hospitals said that while the H1N1 strain — also known as swine flu — is widespread in Pennsylvania as verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, certain precautions can still be taken to avoid the virus.

First, it’s not too late to get a flu shot, said Nancy Gibson, infection preventionist at Jameson Hospital. She noted the flu season is generally considered to be from late November through March.

She said the vaccine is effective through the entire flu season.

And, “it’s best to avoid crowds. That reduces the chances of being exposed to the virus.”

According to Barbara Bernardi, director of nursing services at Jameson, the vaccine is still available in the community, particularly at drug stores.

This year, there are three strains of flu virus in the area identified by the Centers for Disease Control but H1N1 is the deadliest, Bernardi said.

“The elderly and very young are always most susceptible to the flu,” she pointed out, “but this year, it is hitting people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.”

Gibson said everybody 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine, as recommended by the CDC.

Right now, there are a lot of sick people who are respiratory patients, some of whom have the flu and some who do not, Bernardi continued.

At Ellwood City Hospital, visitors are advised not to enter if they display symptoms such as sneezing or coughing, cautioned Beverly Annarumo, chief quality officer.

“As soon as you walk in the door, there are signs telling people to wash their hands and if they do have a cough or cold, to wear a mask that we provide,” Annarumo said.

Surgical-type masks also are available in the registration area at Jameson, and signs there emphasize the importance of hand washing or using an alcohol hand sanitizer, and avoiding seeing patients if the visitor has obvious symptoms.

Hand sanitizer stations have been placed by all the entrances, elevators, registration desk, in the emergency room and every patient room, Annarumo explained.

And those hand sanitizers “are everywhere” at Jameson, Bernardi said.

The flu has a rapid onset and a person is usually infectious before actually feeling sick, she noted.

According to Bernardi symptoms include extreme body aches, respiratory issues and fever, and while gastrointestinal symptoms can occur with H1N1, it is not a leading symptom.

“If someone thinks they have the flu, they should call the doctor soon,” she said, adding antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, are effective if the patient is seen early enough.

“We want to increase awareness to protect others as well as ourselves,” Bernardi said. “I highly recommend getting the shot; there are very little side effects to it and if you do get the flu, the symptoms should be milder.”

In 2009, there was a worldwide pandemic because of the H1N1 strain, Gibson said.

Overall, the main advice is — “If you are sick, stay home.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)