Falls, flu among lingering winter threats


As Indiana gets back to business as usual, two major dangers remain in the cold winter weather.

Doctors treated several patients with hip and wrist fractures at St. Francis Hospital Tuesday. The real concern is a broken hip in patients over 65. A study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found a 60 percent mortality rate for those patients.

"Half of the mortality occurs in the first month, just from complications, blood clots forming, pneumonia forming, other infections during the hospitalization," said Dr. Steve Samuels. "The other half of the mortalities occurs in that first year, just because they are not able to get up and active again and again, they develop complications."

Samuels says the flu is also spreading and it's not too late to get a flu shot. In fact, he says he administered several Tuesday morning as the old foe is back and seemingly stronger.

"H1N1 seems to be a little bit more virulent this year. In the years past, we have seen frequently a lot of flu, but we haven't seen real severe flu this year, we seem to see cases that are very, very severe from H1N1. No one really seems to know why, for sure," Samuels said. "We do think the flu shot is efficacious, more efficacious than in years past, so definitely get your flu shot."

The cases Samuels has seen so far include severe complications leading to pneumonia requiring ventilation and kidney failure.

The Indiana State Department of Health reports three people in Indiana have died from influenza, which is not considered widespread in Indiana, making the flu shot and prevention even more important.

Falls and flu Q&A

Dr. Steve Samuels with St. Francis was live Tuesday on "Ask the Doctor" on Eyewitness News at Noon, talking with Healthbeat anchor Anne Marie Tiernon about the health risks of this winter blast.

Anne Marie Tiernon: What's coming in, that are injuries and illnesses related to the cold weather?

Dr. Steve Samuels: Seeing a lot of falls and complications from falls, fractures, hip fractures, wrist fractures. We're also seeing a lot of heart-related issues, as the mayor echoed earlier, if you don't need to be out in this cold shoveling snow, it's probably not a good idea.

Tiernon: And tell us why preventing a fall is so important, especially in our senior population.

Samuels: In our senior population, there are studies that show up to 60 percent mortality rate with a hip fracture. So in that first month, we see a lot of deaths just related to the acute fracture and complications, but over the rest of the year as they're no longer able to maintain normal activity, further complications occur, so it's an extreme risk for them, being very careful out there.

Tiernon: And younger people when they fall, maybe it's more likely to be another extremity.

Samuels: Typically wrist fractures, typically upper extremity fractures they'll fall and try and catch themselves and brace themselves and end up breaking the wrist.

Tiernon: And why is it so stressful on the heart when we have this exertion when we've got these sub-zero temperatures?

Samuels: Exertion just naturally increases the cardiac demand. When you do it in cold weather, that doubles the cardiac demand. And so a person with underlying heart disease, who may not know about it, or who does, but is not well controlled, can then stress themselves into a heart attack, congestive heart failure, and other problems.

Tiernon: And I know we've been talking exposure, have you seen any exposure issues at St. Francis?

Samuels: We've seen some mild frostbite cases, most people are heeding the warnings and wearing appropriate clothing, so we haven't seen too much of that yet.

Tiernon: And real quickly, the other story that's coming in the health news in Indianapolis right now is the flu. We're starting to see an up tick and it's serious, isn't it?

Samuels: Absolutely, it is H1N1, typically, Influenza Type A, but we're seeing more serious cases of it this year, we're not sure exactly why, but we've seen some very serious cases and several deaths in the state. It's not too late to get your flu shot, go ahead and get it, it will take several weeks to become active for you, but get it now.

Tiernon: And have you administered any today?

Samuels: I've administered three today in the office, so people are heeding that warning, too, and getting in and getting it taken care of despite the weather.

Tiernon: That's typically what we see after people have traveled, gone across the country, visited with families after the holidays and the beginning of the year, man those cases!

Samuels: This is the type of year that we see it, everyone's traveled they bring back a disease from maybe another area, flu travels quickly through the airplanes, and we see flu go up. Bronchitis, pneumonia, all those kind of seem to go up at this time of year.