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January 16, 2013

Free flu hotline set up to keep community healthy

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

What can you do to protect yourself against catching influenza, especially if an officemate or family member has it? And what is the best course of action if you succumb to the virus?

In an effort to help answer these and other questions about the flu, Beaumont Health System has set up a free, 24-hour community service hotline staffed by Beaumont nurses to help the community identify flu symptoms, select a treatment option, and know when and where to seek medical attention.

In a prepared statement, Dr. James Zaideh, interim chief of emergency medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, said that local hospitals and emergency rooms are jammed with patients with mild flu and other minor respiratory illness. He said that in most cases, people can get better at home by resting, drinking lots of fluids and taking over-the-counter medications. Flu symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. However, people suffering from influenza should seek emergency care if they have a temperature of 102 or higher with chills and shortness of breath.

He added that people at higher risk for complications from the flu including those with asthma, severe heart or lung disease, insulin-requiring diabetes, cancer or other immune-system compromising conditions, pregnant women, and those older than age 65 and you nger than age 2, should seek medical care from their physician if they contract the virus.

Dr. Jeffrey Band, Beaumont’s corporate chairman of epidemiology, said that health care professionals started seeing flu cases in very early December, about four weeks ahead of schedule. According to Band, it’s still not too late to get the flu vaccine, which he said is “an excellent match for this year’s viruses.” He added that antiviral medications only shorten the duration of the illness by one day and are only appropriate for those in the hospital or with severe diseases.

To date, 18 children, four in Michigan, have died from the flu nationwide, according to the Oakland County Health Division. The virus is spread from person to person by airborne droplets from an infected person’s sneezing, coughing and speaking, and it can thrive on surfaces for up to eight hours at room temperature.

“Good hand-hygiene breaks the train of transmission,” said Martin Levesque, who holds a master’s in public health. He is director of quality patient safety at Beaumont Hospital, Troy. He explained the hand-washing protocol he teaches to health care professionals, which is beneficial for everyone.

“Turn the faucet on to the warm, rather than hot or cold setting. Hot water strips oils from skin, and soap won’t lather as well in cold water,” he said. “Create a lather. Wipe your hands dry using paper towel, then turn off the faucet with the paper towel or turn the faucet off with your elbow. Make sure you’re not touching the faucet.

“Use the paper towel to open the door to the bathroom, then discard it in a trash receptacle. You can’t assume everyone who goes into the bathroom is washing their hands.”

He said that influenza is spread through droplets from coughs or sneezes within 3 feet. “At 4, 5 or 6 feet, droplets fall to the floor.”

The virus is also spread by touching an infected surface with your hands, then touching the mucous membranes on the T-zone on your face: across the eyes, nose and mouth, Levesque said. 

If you have to cough, cough into your elbow or lapel and turn away from people, he said. “Or cough into a tissue, throw the tissue away and wash your hands.

“Alcohol sanitizers are also effective.”

And if you have to work when you are ill, practice respiratory etiquette, or better, take time off, Levesque said. And take good care of your immune system by eating well and getting adequate exercise and rest — “things your mom and dad said,” he added.

Call the Beaumont Flu Hotline at (888) 375-4161 or the Oakland County Health Division at (248) 858-1406.

For more information about seasonal flu, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/flu.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.