Flu season not slowing down, officials encourage people to get their flu shots

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Err on the side of safety this flu season.

Although Henry County Health Center doesn?t know how many people have come through their doors seeking treatment for influenza A or B, at one point, they were running out of flu tests, said Lacey Harlan-Ralls, Emergency Department director. Purell hand sanitizing stations can be found around every corner of the hospital. ?We?re all about that until our little paws are raw,? Harlan-Ralls said about hospital staff.

The latest flu report for January from the Iowa Department of Public Health said that flu activity continues to be high in Iowa. There have been 43 flu-related deaths reported this season in the state.

Within their walls, employees are encouraged not to be martyrs. If they have a fever they stay home, and the rest of the community should take a lesson from them. After all, the best defense is a good offense, Harlan-Ralls said. She said people may find it rude, but she and other hospital staff have stopped shaking hands.

?We?re trying to tell people when you go to church, be careful,? she said. ?Any public places, we like to shake hands and that?s part of our culture, but during cold and flu season, we try to avoid those things.?

?You can pass the peace just by saying good morning,? added Shelley Doak, Henry County Health Center (HCHC) Public Information director. ?We?re definitely big on prevention.?

Although visitation has been restricted within the maternity ward, inpatient services have yet to follow suit, Doak said. More precautions are taken for flu patients, who are put in isolation, ?although our rooms are private rooms anyway,? she said.

Aside from that, visitors are unofficially limited for flu patients to enable them the quiet time and rest they need to recover. ?We?re not trying to be ugly,? Harlan-Ralls said. ?We know pastors like to come and visit, but we try to keep visitors to a minimum.?

This is as much for the patients? benefit as visitors. Doak said their main concern is to provide the best healing environment for their patients, but they also want to protect family members from catching what their loved one has.

Harlan-Ralls said any time someone has a health concern, if they are running a fever or have any symptoms that are not going away, they should pick up the phone and have that conversation with their health care provider.

?This year, it?s hard to say [when someone should go to the doctor] and I?m kind of dragging my feet because you?ve heard about the deaths from the young athletes and the children who are otherwise healthy,? Harlan-Ralls said. ?Their body overreacts to the flu and that?s why it is of concern.?

She said most patients can safely stay at home, taking Tylenol or Motrin, but she still suggests having that conversation with a doctor. For people who come in with a fever and a cough seeking a flu test, hospital staff asks that patients wear one of the masks that are offered at the hand sanitizing stations.

Although there is a national saline shortage because international saline plants in Puerto Rico have been out of production since the hurricane, it hasn?t impacted flu patients in Henry County. Harlan-Ralls said that they can use solutions other than saline such as ringers lactate solution, which is fluid used to replenish electrolytes. She also said that they haven?t had too many patients come dehydrated enough to need a saline drip anyway.

Both Harlan-Ralls and Doak strongly suggested seeking a flu vaccine for those who have not already been vaccinated. Director of Public Health Shelley Van Dorin said that the department has given 895 doses of the flu vaccine so far this year and it still is available. Public Health?s Immunization Clinic is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m.

Harlan-Ralls said that the best preventive practices are to take good care of your body, drink plenty of fluids, eat fruits and vegetables and get enough rest.