The flu is getting a lot of the blame for packed hospital emergency departments in Fresno.
“We’re in the middle of a flu outbreak,” said Dr. Dee Lacy, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente-Fresno.
Lacy bases that prognosis off of positive flu tests, which last week reached 39 percent, the highest result for influenza for a single week that she can remember.
Every flu season, Kaiser tests people for influenza who are admitted with upper respiratory illnesses and fever to its hospitals in Northern California, including the medical center in Fresno. Last week, out of 2,224 tests, 862 were positive for influenza A, Lacy said. And another 14 percent were positive for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which can make infants very sick.
Lacy said Kaiser’s emergency room has been jammed, but they’re seeing patients as fast as possible.
Tuesday afternoon, of 101 patients in the hospital, 18 were in isolation because they had the flu or were waiting for tests to confirm if they had it, she said.
Scott Puhalla, Clovis Community Medical Center emergency room director, said a number of factors make this time of year typically one of the busiest for Valley emergency rooms. People are often inside together more than when it’s warm out and are more likely to share any viruses going around.
But the holidays are a factor in the long wait to see ER doctors. During the holidays, people are off their regular routine, which might make a difference to those with chronic health conditions.
And Sharon James, Community Regional Medical Center house supervisor, said the cold weather is not helping. When it’s cold, damp or wet out, there are more respiratory problems for people with congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia or asthma.
Lacy said it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The vaccine is still the best option for preventing the flu, she said, and so far the vaccine has been a good match for the influenza A strains that are circulating in the United States.
People who wake up with a fever, cough, body aches and “feel like they’ve been hit by a small truck” should call a doctor, Lacy said. Anti-viral medication can be given and if the medication is taken within two days of the onset of flu symptoms, it can speed recovery, she said.
But stay home, if you can, to avoid spreading the flu. “Ask family members to pick up the anti-virals,” Lacy said.