You may have noticed that many of your friends, family members, and co-workers have been sick lately. Typically this time of year, there are many reports of respiratory illness, seasonal influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), stomach and diarrhea illness throughout the community. There is still time to get a flu shot, if you have not already done so. Be sure children are fully immunized, and adults should get a whooping cough booster, the Tdap vaccine. Although vaccines do not prevent 100 percent of disease, they are the best way to prevent widespread illness. Sometimes you need to get a vaccine to protect not only yourself but those around you who cannot receive the vaccine or for whom the vaccine is not as effective. Vaccines work best in healthy individuals. Health care workers and others who care for or interact regularly with young children or the elderly should get the influenza vaccine yearly and the Tdap at least once in place of a tetanus booster.
With illnesses going around, it may be difficult to know when to visit the emergency room and when to make an appointment with your doctor. Knowing the difference can help our emergency departments run more efficiently.
Visit an Emergency Room for these reasons:
Loss of consciousness.
Signs of a heart attack.
Signs of a stroke, such as sudden onset of numbness in any extremity and elevated blood pressure.
A major injury, such as a head injury.
Bleeding that does not stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure.
Severe shortness of breath.
A severe or worsening reaction to an insect bite or sting, or to a medication, especially if breathing is affected.
Unexplained stupor, drowsiness, or disorientation.
Coughing up or vomiting blood.
Suicidal or homicidal feelings.
Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea that lead to dehydration, especially in elderly people and young children.
Fever accompanied by changes in consciousness, extreme headache, and a bruise-like rash.
Anything else you reasonably believe may be an emergency.
Visit your medical care provider instead for things that can wait and are not emergent. Remember that emergency rooms are meant to serve those who are critically ill or injured, and they are seen first. In addition, think twice about going to the ER because people waiting to be seen may have other contagious illnesses that you do not want to catch when you are already ill.
Living our daily lives going to school, work, the store, the gym, and other public places exposes us to potential illnesses. There are simple actions that we can take to keep ourselves and others from getting sick: stay home when you are sick, cover your coughs and sneezes, disinfect surfaces when household members are ill, stay up to date with vaccines, and wash your hands often.
For more information about the flu season, go to the state Department of Health website: www.doh.wa.gov.
Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501 or email@example.com.