Fayette flu cases impact schools, ER

Although the flu has reached “epidemic” proportions statewide, it has not reached the critical point in Fayette County, according to several officials.

However, the number of local flu patients has led to longer wait times in local emergency rooms when in most cases they should stay home instead, drink plenty of fluids and wait out the virus so it can run its course, according to Allen McCullough, chief of the Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

There are some people with other serious medical conditions who should consider going to the ER such as those with an aggressive cancer, diabetes and hypertension because the flu can morph into pneumonia, McCullough said. Even for those patients, it might be a good idea to speak with the primary healthcare provider before going to the ER, McCullough advised.

Although the school system saw its first reported flu case in October, the number of flu cases grew to 21 in November, peaked at 65 in December and there have been 30 cases so far this month, according to Fayette County school officials.

The outbreak also is affecting immediate care and other primary caregivers who are seeing flu patients, McCullough said. So the best advice if you get the flu is to stay away from others and take other precautions to prevent transmission including covering your cough without using your hands, which once infected can allow the flu virus to live on other surfaces where others can become infected.

McCullough suggested the use of an antimicrobial disinfectant liquid when soap and water are not available to wash hands.

McCullough noted that the county has a health surveillance program using data from schools and other sources that helps track the outbreak of flu and other medical problems; the results are shared with healthcare professionals and emergency management officials.

Public health officials say it is still not too late to get a flu shot, noting that the predominant flu strain this year is a close match to the vaccine, which means it will be effective in preventing the flu or minimizing its symptoms and duration.

In addition to the basic hand-washing and sanitizing procedures to avoid the flu, public health officials also recommend refraining from touching your face since flu germs can enter the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.

Furthermore, those who contract the flu must be free of a fever without the use of a fever reducer at least 24 hours before returning to work or school, officials recommend.

Other precautions that should be taken involve caring for those who have the flu as follows:

• If you are caring for a sick individual at home, keep them away from other people as much as possible.

• Keep the sick person away from common areas of the house and if you have more than one bathroom, have the sick person use one and well people use the other.

• Clean the sick room and the bathroom once a day with household disinfectant. No one should visit the sick person other than the caregiver.

• Clean linens, eating utensils, and dishes used by the sick person thoroughly before reusing. You do not need to wash items separately.