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Hospitals inundated with flu patients

January 20, 2018 GMT

Hospitals here and across the country are dealing with the pressure of a difficult flu season, as a less effective than usual flu vaccine has left some Americans unprotected.

Locally, hospitals are making accommodations for the influx of patients.

Hospitals in Chicago, such as Loyola University Medical Center, are instituting similar policies as they deal with more flu cases than they have in years.

Riverside Medical Center has temporarily restricted visitors age 17 and younger in an effort to prevent high-risk young people from contracting the virus. Anyone with flu-like symptoms, regardless of age, is asked to refrain from visiting

Similar to many other hospitals, Riverside Medical Center and associated clinics also require employees to be vaccinated or wear a mask. There are masks and even separate seating areas available for people coughing or sneezing.

“Unilaterally, everyone’s saying we’re seeing a spike starting around the holidays. The last week in December and throughout the month of January, we’ve been at peak or near-peak census constantly,” said Carl Maronich, Riverside’s director of marketing and public relations.

Iroquois Memorial Hospital in Watseka also is restricting young visitors, although that’s standard procedure for the hospital during heavy flu seasons. There was a slight increase in patients around the holidays that has since petered out.

“Since that time, I can tell you that our clinics and our ER have had some flu and flu-like activity. Nothing that has overwhelmed us by any means, but we see a little bit every day. We’ve had a few cases in, a few inpatients in with the flu but nothing overwhelming,” said LouWonna Snodgrass, RN, director of infection control and employee health at Iroquois Memorial.

“I think the simplest way to describe it is that flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now. There’s lots of flu in lots of places,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the Center for Disease Control’s influenza division, in an update Jan. 12.

There have been a total of 74,562 lab-confirmed cases of the flu this season, and that number only reflects those sick enough to go to a doctor. There isn’t a reliable death toll yet, but California alone reports 42 deaths so far. Across the country, 30 children have died as a result of the flu.

The latest report from the Illinois Department of Public Health confirms 175 flu patients were admitted to an intensive care unit the week ending Jan. 13, with a total of 830 having been admitted so far.

“The big thing is that if you are sick, you need to stay home,” said Dr. Brian Curtis, director of Physician Practice for OSF HealthCare Medical Group, in an interview with the Illinois News Network. “Don’t try and tough it out. Don’t go to work. Don’t send your kids to school.”

Curtis added that most of the people who’ve already gotten sick in Illinois are either very old or very young. He said the latest outbreak is among middle-aged folks, which can cause some of its own problems.

Nationally, the flu is hitting every hard in every state but Hawaii. In California, one of the states with the highest number of cases, some hospitals are treating patients in “surge tents,” medically equipped tents that hospitals use during natural disasters.

So why is the flu so bad this year? The CDC makes adjustments to the vaccine every year in anticipation of what strain of the virus will be most prevalent that year, and they don’t always get it right. This year’s vaccines — the CDC recommends the injection instead of the nasal spray — are around 30 percent effective this year.

“So far this season, influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common form of influenza. These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older. When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more hospitalizations and more deaths,” CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald said. “While our surveillance systems show that nationally the flu season may be peaking now, we know from past experience that it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down.”

The flu season can last through April, so public health officials urge people who haven’t been vaccinated to get the shot, especially the elderly, children older than 6 months and pregnant women.