Health care officials say this year’s outbreak is among the worst they’ve seen in a decade. Eisenhower Medical Center is scurrying to restock their shelves with Tamiflu, an antiviral commonly given to flu patients.
Eisenhower Medical Center medical director, Euthym Kontaxis said the medical center has seen four times as many flu patients this year compared to last year at this time. The number of patients seeking care at the emergency room and urgent care offices have increase 25 percent year to year. The emergency room is seeing up to 350 patients a day while urgent care offices are handling nearly 150 patients a day.
On a recent morning, 11 people were standing in line outside Eisenhower Medical Center’s urgent care facility on Sunrise Way in Palm Springs, waiting for the doors to open at 7 am. As they filed in, the staff handed out face masks to everyone with a cough and fever.
According to state health officials, flu-related deaths in California are higher than normal this early in the season with 27 flu-related deaths reported so far in California. About 30 percent of those who died from the flu had been vaccinated, officials said.
“The flu is definitely spiking in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and our residents need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer. “If you’re sick, take care of yourself and don’t go to work or school. And if you’re not sick and you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, you should.”
It’s Not Too Late to Get a Flu Shot
Barbara Cole, Riverside University Health System infectious disease specialist, said typically flu season runs mid-January to early March. But this year’s flu season this started about a month earlier than typical. She said the recent spike in cases, while not yet an epidemic, is reminiscent of an increase in flu cases 15 years ago.
Reports have shown that the flu vaccine could be only 10 percent effective this year, according to the Center for Disease Control, but officials say the vaccine is still worth getting as this year’s flu is stronger than in previous years as physicians are seeing more cases of influenza A, which is typically more severe than other strains.
Kontaxis said initially the vaccine was slated to be 80 percent effective, but the studies he has read show that it is 15 to 25 percent effective. However, Kontaxis said the batch of vaccines is being modified, so there is still time to get a flu shot that could be more effective than the one originally released this season.
How To Prevent and Treat the Flu
- The California Department of Public Health recommends the flu shot for anyone six months old or older. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, meaning the sooner patients get the shot, the sooner it will start working. Officials said it is not too late to get a shot. Getting a shot anytime throughout the flu season can help prevent catching the flu or at least reduce symptoms.
- Frequent hand-washing and distancing yourself from those infected with the flu can also minimize the spread. The vaccine will reduce the severity and length of the illness.
- Those who need medical care are urged to visit their primary care physician or an urgent care facility as opposed to going to an emergency room.
- Those who are sick are encouraged to stay home from work or school as not to spread the flu to others. It can take up to two weeks to fully recover.
- Symptoms of the flu to look for include fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, head and body aches, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Drinking plenty of fluids and using over-the-counter products like Tylenol can ease the symptoms, said Geoffrey Leung, Riverside University Medical Center family practitioner.
- Those who see their symptoms worsen should seek medical attention though as not to develop pneumonia.
- For flu shot locations in Riverside County, visit www.rivcoimm.org.
What not to do?
Call an ambulance.
“It’s important to remember that 911 is for serious or life-threatening medical and psychiatric emergencies,” said Dr. Reza Vaezazizi, medical director for the emergency medical services agencies for Riverside and San Bernardino counties. “This is always true, and especially pertinent in our current situation.”