Flu here, making its misery known

Effect seen in visits to emergency room, school absenteeism

`Kazoos of people'

January 12, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh and Anne Haddad | Mike Farabaugh and Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The flu season is dawning in Carroll County, filling the hospital emergency room, bringing more than 10 percent absenteeism at a middle school and causing a high school coach to say no to sharing drinking-water bottles.

"Our average census is 95 to 100 patients a day, but we're seeing about 125 to 140," said Dr. Peter Petropoulos, an emergency room physician at Carroll County General Hospital.

Debbie Middleton, supervisor of communicable diseases for Carroll County Health Department, said, "I can tell you that kazoos of people in Carroll seem to have all the symptoms normally associated with the flu."

Those symptoms include a heavy cough, nasal congestion, high fever, chills and achiness, Middleton said.

County health officials are telling sick people who call their office to stay out of crowds, drink lots of fluids, wash their hands frequently, get plenty of rest and see a physician if the symptoms persist or become worse.

"We are also telling the worried well who call to avoid crowds, eat healthy meals, wash their hands and get plenty of rest," Middleton said.

It's too late to get a flu shot, she said. Mark it on your calendar for next fall, though, she said.

"Despite the TV ads, telling them it's not too late to get a flu shot, there is no vaccine available," she said.

Immunization programs begin in October and continue into November, Middleton said.

The flu has no cure, and the hospital doesn't have the new drug Relenza that might reduce flu symptoms, said Petropoulos.

But he said anyone older than age 60 with typical flu symptoms of respiratory problems, nausea, body aches and fever should see a doctor.

"The elderly should not hesitate to come to the ER if they don't feel well," Petropoulos said.

Complications

He said those patients could have other serious problems that mimic the flu, and those with the flu are more susceptible to complications such as pneumonia.

People of any age should see a doctor if they have trouble breathing or a very high fever, he said. They should phone their regular doctors first. Even at night, doctors have answering services or other systems to respond to a call, he said.

People who go to the hospital's emergency room with conditions that are not life-threatening are waiting an average of two or three hours, Petropoulos said.

"But if you come in with a heart attack, we'll see you right away," he said.

Westminster West Middle School was the first school in the county yesterday to report a more than 10 percent rate of absent pupils, said Carey Gaddis, spokeswoman for Carroll County schools.

"We are surprised more schools haven't called in, because everyone in the community seems to have the flu," Gaddis said.

The bug has slam-dunked county high school athletes, too.

Sarah Palmer, coach of the North Carroll High girls basketball team, has devised a daily anti-flu strategy for her squad's daily practice routine.

According to Palmer's game plan, her Panthers must drink from a personal water bottle and not share it with teammates, and she urges them to wash their hands in an effort to curtail the spread of flu germs.

Less than 100 percent

The Panthers defeated Frederick, 54-47, Friday night. One sick player missed that game, and several more played despite feeling less than 100 percent.

"For us, the sickness started before Christmas," Palmer said. "Every team seems to experience problems with the flu at some point in December or January. One or two become ill, and it spreads throughout the team."

The flu season hit later and harder last year.

Nurses at Carroll County General Hospital worked double shifts in February when the emergency room was swamped with walk-in patients.

The last previous outbreak was in December 1996 when patients with flu-like symptoms caused by intestinal and respiratory viruses sought treatment at the emergency room.

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