Respiratory illness, falls pose danger in winter - The Buffalo News
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Respiratory illness, falls pose danger in winter

Respiratory illnesses and injuries from falls remain the major weather-related issues faced by hospitals and other health facilities during this bitterly cold weather.

But officials reported Tuesday nothing out of the ordinary for the season.

“We’re definitely seeing people with flulike illnesses. It’s not as bad as last year. The flu vaccine got the match right. But it’s widespread,” said Dr. Joseph Chow, medical director of Immediate Care’s five urgent care centers.

The Catholic Health System reported that weather-related cases remain typical for January, with respiratory illnesses and falls from slips the major issue.

“We have not seen any spikes in emergency room use,” said JoAnn Cavanaugh, spokeswoman for the network that includes Mercy, Sisters and Kenmore Mercy hospitals.

Kaleida Health experienced a small spike in respiratory illnesses, including colds and influenza, but nothing unusual.

“Cases for us peaked during the blizzard a few weeks ago, but it has been busy again in the emergency rooms the last few days,” said Michael Hughes, spokesman for the hospital system, which includes Buffalo General Medical Center, Millard Fillmore Suburban, DeGraff Memorial and Women & Children’s hospitals.

Hughes and Chow said their facilities have seen few injuries from snow throwers, frostbite or hypothermia.

Those most at risk of frostbite tend to be homeless individuals, mountaineers and people who work outdoors or engage in winter sports. It is less common in the general population, a reflection of public awareness about the dangers of prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, said Chow.

But falls are another matter.

“There is ice under the snow, and it’s easy to slip. Falls can be devastating, especially for the elderly,” he said.

Influenza activity currently is considered geographically widespread across the state, according to the Health Department. As of Jan. 18, the most recent period of data, public health officials in New York had noticed small increases in visits to doctors and emergency rooms by patients with flulike symptoms.

Nationwide, there is a lot of flu, with cases declining in some parts of the country, such as the Southeast, and increasing in other parts, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One weather-related issue for large medical institutions mirrors a problem homeowners know well: The continued cold means unusually high heating bills, a potential financial headache for hospitals.

Kaleida Health, for instance, notified employees that it is monitoring utility consumption and requested workers to do what they can to conserve energy, such as turning off unused computers and lights, and taking the stairs instead of elevators.

“It’s a concern,” said Hughes.


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