The 2013-2014 colds and flu season is upon us, and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital has geared up to help Santa Clarita Valley residents stay healthy or get well fast through the winter and into the spring.
“If you haven’t had your flu shot yet, you should certainly get it now,” said Tracy “Bud” Lawrence, MD, an attending physician at Henry Mayo’s emergency room for more than a decade.
While influenza is not life-threatening for most people, he said, “The risk of death from influenza hits the extremes of population – the really young, the very old, or anyone who doesn’t have a well-functioning immune system.”
Lawrence said the Henry Mayo ER sees a surge in the number of patients during flu season, now through March and perhaps into April, from an average of about 4,200 a month to 4,400 or more.
“And we’re ready for that surge now,” he said. “We up-staff our physicians, we up-staff our nursing and we’re able to care for the community in that way.”
The Time for Flu Shots is Now
Santa Clarita Valley residents can get flu shots now at Henry Mayo and other SCV medical facilities, as well as drugstores including CVS and Walgreen’s outlets. College of the Canyons’ annual free walk-through flu shot event is on Nov. 15 at the Valencia campus.
“There are many formulations of the flu shot,” Lawrence said. “You can get your standard flu shot, or an intradermal flu shot, which is one that just goes in the skin. It’s a bunch of little, tiny needles that injects the [vaccine] into the skin. Many people report less muscle soreness with that [because it doesn’t actually] go in the muscle. And there’s an intranasal flu vaccination, just a little spray that goes in your nose. Any way you can get the flu vaccination, I’d highly recommend it.”
Influenza and the ‘Common Cold’
There’s a difference between influenza and the so-called “common cold,” and how they’re treated.
“They’re both actually viral infections,” Lawrence said. “A common cold is going to be caused by a virus, and influenza, is a virus as well. The common cold is what we would call a group of symptoms. You’d have symptoms like a runny nose, fever, cough, congestion, maybe a sore throat. Often, those symptoms are caused by any number of viruses – coxsackievirus and adenoviruses among them. There are millions of viruses that could cause any type of what we would call a viral symptom, or what people would term the ‘common cold.’
“But what makes the flu different is that we’re talking about one specific etiology, one class of viruses, influenza virus, that is causing this specific infection,” he said. “What we try to do is target this specific infection first proactively by influenza vaccination.”
Prevention: Hand-Washing as Important as Flu Vaccination
Frequent hand washing is as important as a flu shot to ward off infectious bugs.
“I know that sounds so silly and basic, but you can really cut down on transmission of viruses if you wash hands,” Lawrence said. “It goes with influenza and the common cold. These things will spread around the household, the workplace, around the school very quickly if you aren’t washing hands and you have a lot of contact, hand shaking, sharing of saliva, those kinds of things. So, it’s very important to wash hands.”
That’s especially true in the Henry Mayo ER.
“Since we do share workstations, including microphones used to dictate, our phones and keyboards and computers, a lot of us physicians wipe down our workstations and telephones prior to all of our shifts, just trying to decrease that risk of transmission,” Lawrence said.
Staying healthy during the colds and flu season also includes eating and sleeping properly, to keep the immune system strong. While taking extra Vitamin C has not been proven to improve resistance, he said, “I think vitamins are a good idea in this day and age when our dietary intake of vitamins is perhaps not what it should be.”
First Symptoms of a Cold or Flu – What to Do
“I think the first step should always be to call your regular doctor, and at least just touch base with them,” Lawrence said. “Call your doctor, explain your symptoms and get a recommendation. Say, ‘This is what I’m feeling, these are my symptoms, and can you see me today or tomorrow?’ And if they’re not available or you’re concerned, come into the emergency department. We’re here and happy to see you. But I think a lot of the patients could be managed by their primary physician.”
Lawrence acknowledged the large population without medical insurance or a primary physician. “We are here as a safety net for those patients as well,” he said.
Acting on symptoms early is important to minimizing influenza’s danger.
“If we can get people diagnosed with influenza within the first 72 hours, we generally will start a medication called Tamiflu, which has been shown theoretically to potentially reduce the length of illness and reduce symptomatology,” Lawrence said. “So, there is an actual directed treatment, whereas the ‘common cold,’ your usual viral syndrome, just has to run its course.”
Treating the Common Cold in the ER and at Home
“The most important thing for someone with the common cold is to take Tylenol, which is acetaminophen, or Motrin, which is ibuprofen, or Advil,” Lawrence said. “I would take those for fever control and for pain control, often because people have a bit of muscle achiness.
Along with the over-the-counter meds, drinking lots of fluids helps reduce the severity of a cold’s symptoms.
“Fluid hydration is very, very important,” Lawrence said. “When you’re dehydrated, your symptoms certainly get magnified. One of the first things I do when people come into the emergency department with these symptoms is put in an IV and give them fluids, and it seems to make a big difference.
“If you’re at home, try to push fluids as much as you can,” he said. “Most people have a decreased appetite – they’re not hungry, they’re not thirsty – but you have to almost force yourself to drink. The more you can drink, generally speaking, the better off you are, unless you have some other medical reason not to drink lots of fluids. So I would certainly recommend Tylenol, Motrin and lots of fluids at home, and rest.
“Again, the most important thing with all of these viral illnesses is to wash your hands,” Lawrence said. “You don’t want to pass your cold or flu on to anyone else.”
Call 661-253-8000 or visit www.henrymayo.com for more information.
Source: Santa Clarita News