While patients who suspect they have the flu may be tempted to visit the Emergency Department at Womack Army Medical Center, it is the wrong place to go.

According to Lt. Col. Peter Buckley, chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, WAMC, anyone who goes to the emergency room for flu symptoms could jeopardize the health of other patients there.

“When people with flu come into a hospital, you have people who are immuno-suppressed for a variety of reasons, either because of disease or because of medications or on chemotherapy, and the flu can kill these people,” Buckley said.

Potential flu patients are encouraged instead to seek help from a primary care physician. He also offers other advice — call ahead to schedule an appointment because the PCP may prefer for the visit to take place when the waiting room is not crowded with healthy people, Buckley added.

Though the Centers for Disease Control tracks flu outbreaks, WAMC has seen fewer patients than the civilian population. Why? A large proportion of the military population gets the flu vaccine and WAMC-connected individuals are urged to go to outlying clinics.

When the flu becomes endemic, testing is done only for those who are very young, very old or who have severe medical problems, Buckley said.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has announced that, as of Jan. 9, 21 adult deaths have been linked to the seasonal flu.

With an increase in flu cases, some hospitals have begun visitation restrictions. February is the peak of flu season, said Buckley.

Symptoms of flu include coughing, headaches, congestion, and all-over body aches associated with high fevers.

How can all this be avoided?

“From my experience, I have not seen anyone get the flu who has had a flu shot this season, but I have seen individuals who have tested positive for the flu who have not gotten the flu shot, and some of these people, not only are sick, but some are critically ill. Getting a flu shot could save your life,” Buckley said.

For more information about WAMC, visit www.wamc.amedd.army.mil.