Hospitals overwhelmed by influx of flu patients

By Sara Shayanian  |  Jan. 24, 2018 at 10:46 AM
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Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Hospitals across the United States are scrambling to treat a mass influx of flu patients.

They have asked staff to work overtime and some have set up triage tents and canceled elective surgeries to handle the flood of patients.

"We are pretty much at capacity, and the volume is certainly different from previous flu seasons," Dr. Alfred Tallia, professor and chair of family medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, N.J., told Time. "I've been in practice for 30 years, and it's been a good 15 or 20 years since I've seen a flu-related illness scenario like we've had this year."

Alabama, which declared a state of emergency in response to the flu epidemic last week, is facing a similar situation. Virginia's hospitals are also overwhelmed by an increasing number of flu cases coming into the emergency room.

In New Jersey, emergency rooms are at full capacity and hospitals are restricting visitors, especially those with children, to help control the flu's spread.

"You don't have to go to the ER, you don't have to go to the lab, you don't have to get tested, but your doctor should be able to tell you, 'It sounds like flu. It's flu. I'm going to give you Tamiflu,'" Dr. Susan Boruchoff of RWJ Hospital told NJTV. "Don't go visit in hospitals. Stay home, stay home, stay home."

Influenza activity continued to increased nationwide in the United States as of the second week in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In its flu activity report for the week ending Jan. 13, the CDC reported that all U.S. states, with the exception of Hawaii, were continuing to experience widespread flu activity. A number of states experiencing "high" influenza activity increased from 26 to 32, including New York City and Puerto Rico.

The proportion of people seeing medical care for the flu-like illness was at 6.3 percent -- far above the national baseline of 2.2 percent.

Since October 2017, nearly 9,000 laboratory-confirmed influenza-related hospitalizations were recorded nationwide, with the highest hospitalization rates among people 65 years and older. CDC data show that more than 60,000 samples testing positive for influence were reported since October.

There have been 30 flu-related pediatric deaths so far in the United States. The hospitalization rate is currently at 31.5 people per 100,000 U.S. residents.

Emily Muth, a 6-year-old girl from North Carolina, died just a few days after experiencing flu-like symptoms.

"This flu is no joke and didn't have to happen," Rhonda Schambura Muth, the girl's mother, told KVUE. "Please all of you who have children please hold them tight and first sign of flu get them to the ER."

Although the overall hospitalization rate for flu patients is high, it is still lower than the overall hospitalization rate reported during the same week of the 2014-15 season, the CDC says.

"H3N2 seasons are notoriously taxing on the healthcare system and this H3N2 season is not any different," Amesh Adalja, a doctor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, told MedPage Today. "Though the influenza season we are currently experiencing is moderately severe, it has not reached the proportions of, for example, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic year."

Daniel Bachmann, a doctor and director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Program at the Ohio State University Department of Emergency Medicine, told Medpage that although emergency departments are seeing a "significant number of patients" this flu season, it is not nearly as bad as the 2009-10 season.

This year' s flu season could cost U.S. employers $9.2 billion in sick time, based on four sick days to recover, according to an estimate from the Challenger, Gray & Christmas firm.

"The current strain is particularly aggressive and those who are sick can be contagious for up to seven days. Workers who have the flu or need to care for someone with the flu should absolutely not come in to work. This is exactly why employers have sick leave benefits," Andrew Challenger, vice president of the firm, said in a press release.

To prevent flu, caused by the H3N3 virus, the CDC says it "continues to recommend the influenza vaccination for people 6 months and older," urges people to wash their hands and to stay home long enough to recover.

The flu season can run all the way into May.

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