Wednesday, 16 January 2013 10:30

Flu and other illness impacting hospital occupancy

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Not as many people receiving an influenza shot in the fall is likely a contributing factor to the increased pressure now being seen in hospitals and doctors’ offices in the south zone. Capacity protocols are underway to ease pressures partly due to an increase in seasonal influenza-like and gastro-intestinal-type illnesses.


Medicine Hat and Chinook Regional hospitals are experiencing high patient volumes, as are a number of rural health facilities in southern Alberta.
As of Jan. 10, hospital occupancy at Lethbridge was at 96 per cent and about 85 per cent at Medicine Hat Regional. Occupancy in Medicine Hat’s medicine/ surgical units and in sub-acute was more than 90 per cent.
When asked if one reason behind the increased pressure could be the low uptake in the number of people receiving a flu shot this year, Dr. Ada Bennett, a medical officer of health for the south zone, agreed.
“That certainly is a big reason. We need a certain number of people to be immunized for the whole population to feel safe,” she says.
While individuals who receive the flu shot can still get influenza, the symptoms are much milder than for those who choose not to be immunized.
In Alberta, immunization is down about eight per cent from the 2011/12 season.
In 2011/12, 40,349 doses of flu vaccine were administered in the south zone. This year, only 35,675 doses were administered by Alberta Health Services (AHS) public health personnel. These numbers don’t include doses delivered by pharmacists or physicians.
Provincially, as of Jan. 5, AHS has administered 454,436 doses of flu vaccine — 40,892 less than last flu season.
It’s not too late for individuals to still receive a free flu shot from public health personnel or their family physicians or pharmacists.
Dr. Bennett hopes those people who work with vulnerable individuals — the really young, the really old and those with chronic conditions — will choose to have a flu shot every year.
“Those who work with vulnerable people, if something starts ... they are the ones who get more severe symptoms and are more likely to end up in hospital. Caregivers of vulnerable people should get the flu shot.”
Residents can protect themselves from illness and preventing its spread and often the best place to deal with flu symptoms is in the comfort of one’s own home.
Dr. Bennett suggests those suffering from the flu should keep their temperatures down with numerous over-the-counter pharmacy products which can help, as well as improve symptoms such as coughing.
It’s important not to become dehydrated, but if a person develops difficulty breathing, professional help should be sought.
While it is common sense, Dr. Bennett reminds people who are coughing or sneezing to do so into their sleeve. It is also important to wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer.
“People who are coughing and sneezing can help by trying to stay away from crowded places,” she adds. “Try and stay home as much as possible. Cinemas, restaurants — give it a miss until you feel better.”
Caregivers of the very young and old should keep an eye on their loved ones. If they don’t appear to be improving or aren’t coping well with their symptoms, then it’s likely time to seek help, either from a physician or if need be, the hospital.
Individuals can phone Health Link Alberta for advice on seeking appropriate medical care or visit http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/options.
The influenza vaccine is still available, free of charge, to all Albertans six months of age and older. For clinic locations and details, phone Health Link Alberta, or visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/immunization.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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