Health officials offer flu call line

Published 9:35 am Thursday, October 22, 2009

In response to the first global influenza pandemic in over 40 years, state health officials on Wednesday announced a new phone-based support line for people to call if they are experiencing symptoms of the flu.

The line, called the Minnesota FluLine, can be reached at (866) 259-4655. People who call it will have access to professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to a Minnesota Department of Health news release. There is no charge for the call.

Callers will be connected with a participating nurse, or a nurse at a triage line operated by their own provider network or health plan, the release states. The nurse will evaluate the health concerns and discuss treatment options, using specific criteria to determine which treatment option is most appropriate.

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Treatments could include rest and fluids at home, a prescription for an antiviral medication or a medical evaluation, according to the release.

“We have been concerned that this flu season could place a huge burden on our health care system,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Sanne Magnan in the release. “By providing support and treatment options to people over the phone, we hope this new service will allow our health care providers and facilities to focus on those people who most need their attention.”

Health officials also hope it will decrease the spread of flu. If more people call in for help on the phone, this will in turn limit the number of potentially infectious people from gathering in emergency rooms, urgent care centers and clinics.

Jennifer Levisen, community relations and marketing specialist at Albert Lea Medical Center, encouraged people to take advantage of the FluLine. It shares much of the same information the medical center is trying to put out.

Levisen said FluLine will work hand-in-hand with ALMC’s own flu line at 379-2211. Eventually, the medical center hopes to connect the state FluLine with the local line, she said.

The news release stated Minnesota FluLine is the first influenza triage line in the country. It was made possible through a partnership involving the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Hospital Association, the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, health care providers, local health departments and the Children’s Physician Network. It was developed with input from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically to meet the needs of people with possible flu symptoms.

These symptoms include: a fever of 100 degrees or more, along with a sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

According to the release, in most cases people can recover from the flu at home without needing to visit a health care provider. Those who are at highest risk of developing complications, however, are children younger than 2, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with underlying medical conditions.