By: Sarah Mincer, Assistant Captain, 2015
It’s that time of year: flu season. Fever, chills, chest pain, and coughing are all indicators of the flu, and they can come on quickly. It can also cause dehydration, nausea, and, in severe cases, pneumonia. As an EMT, you need to protect yourself from getting and spreading influenza from patients you come in contact with. One of the most important things to be able to do is to recognize the differences between the common cold and the flu.
Symptoms can be similar between the two, but there are some distinct differences that can help you tell them apart. A cold comes on gradually, over the course of a few days, and consists of sneezing, cough, stuffy nose and sore throat. Fever is very rare, and there are mild headaches and fatigue. The flu, on the other hand, can begin to affect a person in just a few hours. Patients will experience fever, chills, severe aches and chest discomfort. The common cold normally affects a person for just a few days, but the flu can infect people for a week.
What can you do to protect yourself this flu season? The most important first step is getting a flu shot. Immunized healthcare workers are less likely to get sick them- selves, are less likely to spread the flu amongst their patients, and are less likely to bring the virus home to their family and friends. Flu shots are available through Baldwin and at many other locations as well. Another important thing is having the proper PPE/BSI. If you suspect your patient does have the flu, both the patient and the EMTs should wear surgical masks. Care providers should always wear gloves as well. After being in contact with a patient who has the flu, your hands should be washed and any equipment used should be properly sanitized. At Vassar, patients do not necessarily have to go to the hospital unless their condition is life threatening. Instead, they can be advised to go to Baldwin in the morning to possibly be put under health watch and to be able to stay home from classes. Patients should also be advised to keep themselves hydrated by drinking water or Gatorade, and to simply rest until they are free of fever for at least 24 hours. If you begin to feel flu-like symptoms, do not go on call as that can easily spread the virus to your patients. Stay home from classes and work until you are fever free for 24 hours. Your job as an EMT is to take care of your patients, but you must not risk yourself in the process.