MSHA officials discuss handling antibiotics during flu season

Published 5:48 pm Friday, February 17, 2017

Star Photo/Curtis Carden                           Dr. Nathaniel Justice, pediatric hospitalist at Niswonger Children's Hospital, (right) and Jamie Swift, corporate director of infection prevention, addressed the media Friday morning at the Mountain States' corporate in Johnson City on how to handle antibotics during flu season.

Star Photo/Curtis Carden
Dr. Nathaniel Justice, pediatric hospitalist at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, (right) and Jamie Swift, corporate director of infection prevention, addressed the media Friday morning at the Mountain States’ corporate in Johnson City on how to handle antibiotics during flu season.

Northeast Tennessee continues to see the effects of the influenza season.
Carter County was just one of the most recent cases to see school systems close down due to illness. Elizabethton and Carter County school systems both announced their closures until Tuesday, Feb. 21, to help deter the spread of diseases.
Mountain States Health Alliance held a special informative session Friday morning in Johnson City with a pair of medical experts within the system to address the season, and provide information to the public on how to combat diseases.
Seeing the school systems close isn’t something out of the ordinary according to Dr. Nathaniel Justice, pediatric hospitalist at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
“The flu outbreak about four or five years ago was something similar to this,” he said. “I was practicing in a small community in Indiana and we had to close some of the schools to just prevent further spread of illnesses.”
One common misconception that Justice expressed Friday was that antibiotics aren’t necessary the right step to take when tackling the flu.
“Antibiotics are effective against bacterial illnesses,” Justice said. “Influenza is a virus. There is an antiviral medication that is effective against the flu but it’s not effective against all viral infections. In children, most infections we see tend to be viral. Antibiotics aren’t the answer for most infections in children.
“I think there is a general perception out there that antibiotics are the right step for any type of infections,” he continued. “We often receive those types of requests from families. Most of my colleagues are good about recognizing these infections are viral and instead of just taking the easy way out with an antibiotic, we’ll invest some time to do some education with families about what steps to take.”
One concern about using antibiotics to treat viral diseases is developing a resistance, Justice explained.
“As far as resistance goes, every time that we use an antibiotic, we are running the risk of selecting out a resistant bug from the population,” he continued. “What I mean by that is, let’s say a child’s ear infection responds well to amoxicillin because it has 100 units of bacteria and 99 of those are sensitive to the antibiotic I prescribe. That one bacteria is now left to grow and that antibiotic I used that last time may not work for the next ear infection. If antibiotics are used, when needed, that’s OK, but if we unnecessarily use antibiotics we’re just selecting out these strains.”
Justice added that antibiotics are applicable when dealing with pneumonia or an ear or urinary tract infection.
“The first thing I would say is antibiotics aren’t without side effects,” Justice said. “Most of them are generally safe and well-tolerated, but there is a potential for an allergic reaction. Even more common than are adverse effects, a lot of them will cause diarrhea or other side effects. There is the potential that you could have a negative reaction to the medication.”
Justice added the hallmark for treating the flu is symptom care, which includes nasal drops and running a humidifier to help break congestion. Over the counter cough medicine is not recommended for children under the age of six years old, Justice added, but a honey-based elixir can be prescribed for children.
“Typically infection measures include washing your hands, especially with children,” Justice said. “Covering their mouths when they cough and their noses when they sneeze. Certainly, if you or your child feels ill and have a fever, please keep them home. Don’t send them to school and we can do that to help stop the spread of the infection.”
Jamie Swift, corporate director of infection prevention, added that even with the recent school closures, this flu season isn’t any extreme change compared to previous years.
“We’re really seeing a typical flu season this year,” Swift said. “A lot of what I’m hearing is, along with faculty getting sick, is also the spread of the norovirus (gastrointestinal bug) and strep throat.”
According to numbers provided by MSHA, over 180 individuals have been treated at the 10-plus hospitals’ emergency departments within the health system during the week of Feb. 12-17.
Justice added that proper protocols are being taken within health systems to help deter the spread of the flu. Both MSHA and Wellmont recently announced restrictions on patient visitations.
“What we’re doing is if anybody has flu-like symptoms, we’re asking them to not visit others in the hospitals,” he said. “To help protect our children, we’re also asking nobody under the age of 12 years old to visit during this time. Younger children are more at-risk to spread the diseases, which can lead back to the homes and into our school systems.”
Swift added that proper measures are also being taken in emergency departments and encouraged individuals to get their flu shots as soon as possible.
“It’s never too late,” she said. “The flu vaccination is a fairly good match to work against the strains that are circulating. We’re seeing it at around 60 percent. When the flu is this heavy, if somebody receives the shots, they’re likely to have less of the symptoms.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox