City health commissioner urges those sick with flu to stay home


Flu season will soon peak, and Baltimore's health commissioner is urging sick people to stay home instead of flooding into emergency rooms.

Many of the city's emergency departments are on "yellow alert," meaning they will soon be full. The remaining space should be reserved for the extremely ill, children and the elderly, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, the health commissioner.

"There is nothing that can be done for the flu in the emergency room," Beilenson said. "If you are youngish and generally healthy, call your doctor first and then take care of it at home so you don't spread it in emergency room waiting rooms."

Relatively few people have reported influenza-like illnesses across the United States this winter. But more people are expected to become ill in the next few weeks, said Dr. Tim Uyeki, an influenza expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Despite problems with distribution of flu vaccine in the fall, about 10 million doses are available nationally, meaning almost anyone who wants the vaccine can get it, Uyeki said.

People who want to avoid the illness should wash their hands frequently and get plenty of sleep and exercise. Those who contract the virus should call their family doctors, take painkillers such as Tylenol, drink lots of fluids and get lots of rest, doctors say.

"Right now we're going up toward the peak of the flu season, and it is now widespread in the state," said Melinda Blackburn, epidemiologist for the Maryland Department of Health.

As of Friday, the state had confirmed 140 cases of influenza this year, but the number is probably higher because most cases are never reported, Blackburn said.

By this time last winter, the state had confirmed 108 cases of influenza. It had recorded 210 cases by this time in the winter of 1999-2000.

Baltimore-area school systems have not reported excessive absenteeism because of the flu this year.

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