By Thomas Cumbo
Niagara Gazette — In recent weeks, there has been a sizable increase in the number and severity of influenza cases seen both here in Western New York and across the country as a whole. Physicians have experienced this increase in both the outpatient and inpatient setting.
Our local emergency rooms and hospitals have been quite busy, much of which is due to patients who are ill with influenza or influenza-related illnesses. Waiting times in the emergency rooms have been very long. As a result, we propose to give you well-established generic advice to help you to reduce your risk of contracting influenza (the flu) and other associated conditions such as secondary bacterial pneumonia. Preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting the flu include but are not limited to: thorough and frequent hand washing, fully covering your mouth whenever you sneeze or cough, taking proper care of dietary and sleep needs and finally, being inoculated with the influenza vaccine, if you have no contraindications to doing so.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that the strains of the influenza virus which are circulating this year have been reasonably well-covered in this year’s vaccine. Although the vaccine may not prevent the flu in all people, it may make the illness less severe if you have had the injection. If, despite all of the above precautions, you do become ill with flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, muscle aches, etc.), please first call your doctor. Do not immediately go to a hospital or emergency department unless you are experiencing severe or worrisome symptoms. Your physician may prescribe some anti-viral medications which, if given soon enough, may sufficiently help to minimize the extent and severity of your illness enough to keep you from having to go to the emergency room and the hospital. Your physician will also advise you which symptoms do require a visit to the emergency department or hospital. It is certainly not too late to get the vaccine. There are still several months left to flu season. Please promptly contact your health care provider if you have special needs or considerations that require expert evaluation to avoid or lessen the effects of this year’s influenza outbreak.Thomas Cumbo, M.D. is the division head of Infectious Disease at Mount St. Mary's Hospital.