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H1N1 When Is It An Emergency

By Kelli Grant
Published: October 13, 2009, 6:06 PM

Most people don't head to their local emergency room unless they've broken a limb or need stitches. But ERs across the country are now being swamped with patients complaining of flu-like symptoms.

But is that trip always warranted? While some may need to be seen, doctors say others could simply treat those symptoms at home and deciding which patient you are isn't always easy.

The H1N1 flu is affecting many who don't normally get severely ill from the flu. They're symptoms that are making many rush to the Emergency Room, when staying at home may be the best medicine.

Sanford Trauma 5 Physician, Dr. Chris Carlisle says they're seeing more and more patients every day with congestion and fever, the tell tale signs of influenza.

“I've never seen a flu outbreak in October. This is the first time that's ever happened,” Carlisle said.
This emergency department is also seeing another first; they set a record Sunday, seeing 65 percent more patients than usual.

“One-hundred-fifty is a lot of people and it's overwhelming and we try and staff for that but it doesn't help when you only have so many rooms and no matter how fast and efficient we are, it still takes a certain amount of time to accomplish what we need to accomplish,” Carlisle said.

While Carlisle says staff here is prepared for an influx of patients, many could recover at home without seeking emergency care.

"If you stick with regularly scheduled doses of Tylenol or Advil and drink a lot of fluids, you're gonna feel 50 percent better just doing that,” Carlisle said.

But if you have an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, asthma, or cancer and you think you have the flu, you should be seen by a physician.

If you have shortness of breath, a very high fever or uncontrolled vomiting, that's when you should get to an ER.
Carlisle says he has seen an equal amount of kids and adults with flu-like symptoms in the ER but expects more children to come in as we get deeper into the H1N1 flu season.

"That's the thing about this particular flu outbreak. It's everywhere and it doesn't follow the line of your usual epidemiology. Everybody is affected and the only thing that amazes me is that I haven't gotten it yet,” Carlisle said.

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