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A healthy new year; Perham Health starts 2023 with illness rate decrease

As of Saturday, Jan. 7, Perham Health was seeing a decrease in illness numbers as compared to December.

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Perham Health
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Tim Studer
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PERHAM — Winter is almost always a busy time for health care providers, especially for those who work in the emergency room. Now with COVID-19 thrown into the mix, the past few years of flu-season care have looked a little different everywhere, including at Perham Health. ER Physician Tim Studer spends many hours in the Perham hospital's emergency room treating illnesses every winter, and he recently took some time to explain the community's current health.

"(Respiratory illness numbers) were very high mid-December through Christmas or so," Studer said. "And now, the numbers have been dropping rather dramatically. We're still seeing some of it, but the numbers have gone down thankfully over the last week (as of Tuesday, Jan. 10)."

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, adults were not frequently tested for respiratory syncytial virus, as it was seen as a childhood test. Now, Studer explained that Perham Health has a quad test, where they can check a patient for influenza A and B, RSV and COVID-19 all in one swab. Numbers of each illness spiked at Perham Health throughout December before tapering off at the end of the month.

In the week of Dec. 11-17, there were 62 flu cases, 23 RSV cases and three COVID-19 cases recorded. From Dec. 18-24, the hospital recorded 29 flu cases, 11 RSV cases and seven COVID-19 cases. Dec. 25-31, they recorded 13 flu cases, 10 RSV cases and four COVID-19 cases. Jan. 1-7, they recorded nine flue cases, eight RSV cases and four COVID-19 cases.

"During those busy weeks, we were seeing 25, 30 people a day total, with half of those being either influenza, RSV or COVID," Studer said. "And we have had the occasional rather severe cases. We've hospitalized a few babies with RSV. We transferred a few more to Fargo to the pediatric unit. Older folks generally get pretty sick with it too. We hospitalized several older folks with influenza."

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Studer said this number of patients isn't particularly uncommon this time of year. On Dec. 30 he had a Facebook memory pop up from about 11 years ago that said he saw 30 patients with flu-like illnesses a day for three days. The biggest change now is the added testing for COVID-19 and RSV.

Regardless, these large numbers of illnesses can put a strain on hospital resources. According to Studer, Perham Health has about nine ER rooms available. On busy days, they have every room full with seven or eight more patients waiting to be seen for sometimes hours at a time. The ER providers do what they can, but there's only so much they can do when there are so many sick people to care for at once.

Studer offered some advice to the community to help them stay healthy and take some strain off ER workers: Wash your hands; don't put them in your mouth or touch your face. If you're going to be in a situation where there's a respiratory illness, consider wearing a mask.

"If you're sick, stay home," Studer advised. "That's the big one. If people don't get together with other people when they're sick, they're not going to give it to others … If we pass it to the littlest babies and the older folks that don't have a good immune system, it's potentially deadly for them. So it's important to stay healthy, and if you're sick, stay away from babies and older folks especially because they're at high risk for developing complications from these illnesses more so than other people."

Studer also advises staying home or going to the clinic rather than the ER if your illness isn't an emergency. Emergency illness symptoms include chest pain and extreme shortness of breath. He emphasized that they're always happy to see people in the ER, but they need to focus emergency care on people who are emergently sick. The general clinic is available for those experiencing mild symptoms.

For more information on the care Perham Health provides, go to perhamhealth.org . Contact them with questions at 218-347-4500 or information@perhamhealth.org.

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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