As some of our readers likely know from first-hand experience, there has been a particularly bad outbreak of the influenza virus this season all across the country.
In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that the flu epidemic is “widespread” in all of the continental United States, the worst outbreak on record since the CDC began tracking the spread of the virus 13 years ago.
This particular season, the flu outbreak began earlier than usual and appears to have already reached a peak — they hope. The most common, and virulent, strain of the flu going around is known as influenza A, H3N2, and as usual, it poses particular risks for children and adults over the age of 65.
By the end of the first week of January, the CDC had tallied approximately 22.7 hospitalizations for the flu out of every 100,000 people in the U.S., and there has unfortunately already been at least 20 pediatric deaths associated with the virus thus far.
But while the flu is “widespread” in 49 of the 50 states — Hawaii has only a regional outbreak — California has been hit especially hard by the virus, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Thousands of sick patients have been flooding into hospital emergency rooms at such a rapid pace that staff are at risk of being overwhelmed. Extra nurses are being flown in from out of state and restrictions have been placed on patient visitations to try and stem further spread.
So many people are showing up in emergency rooms that some hospitals have been forced to erect special tents in their parking lots to manage the overflow of patients seeking assistance. These “surge tents” are usually reserved for mass casualty events or major disasters and look like something from a war zone.
So many people are showing up sick with the flu that Loma Linda hospital put up this giant tent to treat patients in. pic.twitter.com/EFZHaieu2a
— Soumya (@skarlamangla) January 13, 2018
“There’s a little bit of a feeling of being in the trenches. we’re really battling these infections to try to get them under control,” stated Dr. James McKinnell, an infectious disease specialist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. “We’re still not sure if this is going to continue … but it certainly is an inauspicious start.”
The tents, such as the one outside of Loma Linda University Medical Center, features rows of folding chairs in the center and patient beds separated by bed sheets hung from the ceiling. That hospital’s executive director of emergency services, Connie Cunningham, thought the triage tent would only be needed for a few days after the start of the new year, but they are still treating upwards of 60 patients per day two weeks later.
This is what it looks like on the inside. pic.twitter.com/mZGan60qEs
— Soumya (@skarlamangla) January 13, 2018
Sadly, 42 Californians under the age of 65 have already died since the flu season began in October. In comparison, only nine people had died from the flu at this point in last year’s flu season.
In truth, the death toll is actually much higher, as state officials inexplicably don’t keep track of how many adults over the age of 65 succumb to the virus.
It is worth noting that the flu season runs from October through May, typically peaking at some point in February. Officials are concerned because they are unsure if they have merely experienced an early peak in the outbreak or if the epidemic stands to get worse over the next month.
The outbreak isn’t confined to the Los Angeles area either. The Palomar Medical Center Escondido in San Diego County has also erected a special surge tent, and is in danger of running out of beds. Now, they have canceled non-flu related surgeries and are converting single-patient rooms into doubles to handle the load.
“It seems like we’re setting a record almost every day,” stated Dr. Dave Feldman, medical director of the emergency department at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, where a formerly unused storage area has been cleared out and transformed into a makeshift emergency room extension.
Now hospital officials all across the state are urging people to refrain from seeking medical care if they are not severely ill, and are encouraging people to get their flu shot for this season if they haven’t already — even relatively young and healthy individuals — and even though this year’s vaccine has proven to only be about 30 percent effective at preventing influenza.
As to whether California hospitals are simply swamped due to the excessive amount of flu cases or their inability to handle the load is some sort of indictment on the state’s Obamacare-heavy medical system and infrastructure remains to be seen.
Hopefully the incredible doctors and nurses who are fighting this year’s flu outbreak — who should be thanked for their work and prayed for over their own health — have already experienced a peak and will see the outbreak taper off in the near future.
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