Three children died in East Tennessee and three in Middle Tennessee, the department said in an email. The pregnant woman died in Middle Tennessee. The department said it couldn’t release additional details of the deaths.
The Health Department urges people who have not yet had a flu vaccination this season to get one as soon as possible. County health department clinics are providing flu shots at no charge to patients until vaccine supplies are depleted. Flu vaccines are also widely available from a number of other health care providers.
Weeks into the flu outbreak, hospitals still report high numbers of patients coming through their emergency departments.
But do you need to go to the emergency room for influenza?
Well, it depends.
“The flu and illnesses are sending many people to area ERs, even some folks who may not need an emergency visit,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who teamed up with Knox County Health Department director Dr. Martha Buchanan for a public service announcement this week. “It’s important, for the health and safety of our community, to save space in our hospitals and emergency departments for those who need it most. In many cases, a trip to your doctor or to a walk-in or urgent-care clinic is a better option.”
For starters, not all that is making you ill is flu. Statewide, about 18 percent of specimens sent to the Tennessee Department of Health for testing have been positive for flu. From this area, it’s running between 8 percent and 9 percent. On Monday, 10 of the 45 specimens University of Tennessee Medical Center’s emergency department tested were positive.
“It’s important that we take influenza seriously, but we must save the ER for those who are most at risk of severe disease,” Buchanan said.
So who is that? The very young, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain chronic medical conditions, including asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease and diabetes.
Those people can still go to their doctors or a walk-in clinic, rather than the ER, unless they’re having difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in their chest and abdomen; sudden dizziness; confusion; severe or persistent vomiting; or flu-like symptoms that improve over time but then return with fever and worse cough.
For children, there’s a longer list of reasons to visit the ER. Fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking fluids, not waking up or interacting, being so irritable child does not want to be held, fever with rash, and flu-like symptoms that improve but return with fever and worse cough are all reason to take a child to the emergency room.
In addition, get immediate medical help for babies who aren’t able to eat, are having trouble breathing, have no tears when crying, and have significantly fewer than normal wet diapers.
Normal flu symptoms can include fever – low-grade, for less than three days – cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
Buchanan said most people with flu don’t need medical care or antiviral drugs; they just need to stay home, rest and avoid infecting others. If you absolutely must leave the house, try to wear a facemask, she said.
Stay home at least 24 hours after the fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medications, like Tylenol or Advil. This means no work, school, church, travel, shopping or social events.
And wash your hands thoroughly, with soap and hot water. Not only can that slow the flu’s spread if you have it – because you can be infectious before you even show symptoms – but handwashing also can help you avoid getting the flu.