All the beds were full at Carson-Tahoe Hospital
A different kind of Y2K bug has been running through hospital emergency rooms. It’s the flu.
While the newest strains of flu are infiltrating the nation’s workplaces, schools and homes, the attacks don’t seem to be long term.
At Carson-Tahoe Hospital, the hospital has reached near capacity for a variety of cold-weather illnesses. Hospital staff reported that a census alert was issued last week to make room for more incoming patients.
“We’ve been unusually busy,” said Laurie Burt, spokeswoman. “But staff has said it’s not because of the flu.”
The hospital has 128 beds in several different wards, she said. When the census alert is given, the other wards are asked to make space for more admissions.
“We’ve been busy, but it’s not anything to do with the flu, but more with the chronic things like pneumonia and other normal chronic cold weather-related illnesses,” she said.
The hospital operates on about an 85 percent capacity at any given time, said Richard Linkul, spokesman. There are “probably 30-40 times a year when we’re totally maxed.”
The flu, which struck the West hard last month, has arrived like a storm along the East Coast, filling hospital waiting rooms and doctors’ offices with ailing patients.
”It’s bad all over the country,” said Dr. Robert McNamara, chief of emergency medicine at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. ”The flu shot apparently is not doing its job, and from all reports, it could be one of the worst seasons we’ve seen in years.”
Patients at emergency rooms nationwide have found out as much in the last couple of weeks. At McNamara’s hospital, patients line the halls on gurneys, waiting for rooms. Others huddle around rows of chairs waiting to be seen by a doctor. Other hospitals across the country are scrambling to add extra staff, while others are even turning people away due to overcrowding.
”If the trend continues the way it is now, within the next month we are going to have a great challenge to find beds to admit anybody in the state of Maryland,” said Dr. Rick Alcorta, head of the Emergency Medical Resource Center, which tracks the status of hospitals in the Baltimore area.
Said Beth Allen, director of patient services at Community Hospital in Anderson, Ind.: ”This morning our medical-surgical unit was at 150 percent capacity. I think we are approaching record numbers.”
At South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta, Ga., supervisors went from wearing business suits to white nurses’ coats to help with the crush of mostly flu-ridden patients. In Newnan, southwest of Atlanta, a spokeswoman at Emory Peachtree Regional Hospital said doctors are calling this round of flu the worst strain since 1992.
The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 99 percent of the cases reported so far are influenza type A. Most of the cases, officials say, appear to be the Sydney strain of the virus, which also struck last year.
The first substantial cases were reported in California and Arizona last month. Since then, 19 states – including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Virginia – have reported widespread or regional flu activity, the CDC said.
While the agency said about 3 percent of doctor visits in those states were related to flu-like symptoms, hospital workers say cases in the East seemed to have spiked since Christmas.
”We’ve been used to seeing (the flu) in late January, February and even March,” said Dr. Luther Rhodes, chief of infectious disease at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa. ”We weren’t thinking about it over the Christmas holiday.”
As of Wednesday, flu patients occupied half of Lehigh Valley’s 70 single-patient rooms. Normally, Rhodes said, that number reaches only three or four at the height of the season.
For the first time, Rhodes said, the hospital has asked inbound flu patients to call ahead.
Flu symptoms include fever, coughing and runny or stuffy noses, along with headaches, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. The virus is distinguished by its quick onset and its affect over an entire body.
”These are people who come in and generally feel terrible,” said Dr. Anthony Cirillo, chief of emergency medicine at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, R.I. ”Often times, they’re dehydrated. These aren’t people who move through the system overnight.”
Those considered at risk of more serious flu complications include infants, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, AIDS, sickle cell anemia, diabetes or heart disease.
The situation is so bad at Claremont Nursing and Rehabilitation Center near Carlisle, Pa., that visitors are banned through at least Sunday. Ed Quinlan, president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, said some swamped hospitals have been forced to reschedule elective surgeries.
”There is no good flu year,” said Dr. Matthew Cartter, epidemiology program coordinator for the Connecticut Department of Public Health. But whether the season as a whole will prove to be worse than average won’t be known until it has run its course, he said.