Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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Flu cases swamping area hospitals

From staff and wire reports
Jan. 12, 2018 at 11:40 p.m.

This story has been corrected.

As big-city hospitals in Texas have been overwhelmed this week by an influx of flu patients, Christus Good Shepherd Health System reported Friday that its facilities in Longview and Marshall have seen twice as many flu patients this season compared with the last.

Good Shepherd saw about 300 people who tested positive for flu at its two facilities for the 2016-17 flu season. This season, the number is about 600 with more than two months to go. The official flu season runs Oct. 1 through March 31.

Longview Regional Medical Center did not provide numbers of patients admitted to its facility this flu season or the last.

A statement from CEO Casey Robertson said, "LRMC continues to see high volume for flu cases. Since October, we have seen more than 700 cases, with a substantial increase within the last 45 days."

Dr. Mark Anderson, chief medical officer for Christus Good Shepherd Health System, said that in the past week alone, "about 400 cases of the flu have been reported throughout all of the Christus hospitals and clinics in Northeast Texas.

"Our ERs have provided additional staffing and resources in preparation for the flu season."

The most recent Walgreens Flu Index shows the Longview-Tyler area continues to have the highest flu activity in the nation. The index is based on prescription data from the company's pharmacies.

State health officials say influenza activity is widespread across the state, as the top 10 cities on the Walgreens index are in Texas.

At Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, waiting rooms turned into exam areas as a medical tent was built to deal with the surge of patients. A Houston doctor said local hospital beds were at capacity, and he has told flu sufferers they might be better off staying at home. Austin's emergency rooms also have seen an influx of flu patients.

But high emergency room volumes and filled hospital beds are "not uncommon" at this point during flu season, said Lara Anton of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"We definitely know it's widespread," Anton said this week. "We have been at widespread for the past three weeks." But she added that it's too early in the season to know whether this year's flu impact is extraordinary.

On Monday alone, Parkland's emergency department had seen 930 patients — double what the hospital typically sees for people with flu symptoms by this time of year, Dr. Joseph Chang, associate chief medical officer for Parkland, told CBS 11 TV.

Across town Sunday, Methodist Dallas Medical Center rerouted nonemergency ambulance patients to other area facilities to take care of "emergency patients like trauma, stroke and sexual assault" due to the lack of bed availability with the influx of flu patients. The hospital said the move was consistent with state and federal laws, The Dallas Morning News reported.

In Houston, area hospitals have filled up, including Texas Children's Hospital, where a one-fourth of patients are being treated for the flu. Austin doctors have reported high volumes of patients in emergency rooms, and "the number of visits at health care systems, physician offices and urgent care centers over the past week has really exploded," Dr. Ken Mitchell of St. David's Healthcare told KXAN TV.

According to the department's weekly influenza service report, there were high levels of influenza and influenza-like illness in Texas during the last week of 2017. Texas is one of 26 states reporting high flu activity, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People usually have some immunity to seasonal flu from either previous exposure or flu vaccinations, according to the CDC.

Dr. David Lakey, chairman of the Texas Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health, said the flu can put even the healthiest person in bed for a few days. Babies, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases should take special approaches to avoiding and dealing with the flu and should see their primary care provider for antiviral medication if they are ill, he said.

"For those individuals, the symptoms can progress pretty fast," Lakey said.

The strain of the flu spreading around Texas is called H3N2, and Lakey said the flu vaccine is usually less effective on this particular strain — but that doesn't mean people shouldn't get a flu shot.

"The flu vaccine isn't perfect, but it's our best tool," Lakey said. "If you haven't been immunized, there's still a vaccine available, and go ahead and get immunized."



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