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Flu Season Is Hitting CA Hard

News  |  By Doug Desjardins  
   January 31, 2017

A surge in influenza cases has hospitals scrambling, particularly in Northern California.

This story originally appeared in California Healthfax.

The number of influenza cases in California escalated rapidly this month, with some hospitals reporting higher-than-normal emergency department visits and hospital admissions for the flu and flu-related illnesses such as pneumonia.

Influenza has been widespread for several weeks in Northern California and healthcare facilities in the region are dealing with dozens of outbreaks, officials at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) stated.

"We are closely monitoring the impact of influenza on healthcare facilities," said CDPH Director Karen Smith, MD. "Some acute care hospitals in California are full and have diverted patients to other facilities."

The CDPH has received reports of 83 influenza outbreaks, about double the average in previous flu seasons, with most outbreaks affecting patients in long-term care facilities. As of January 21, the state had confirmed 14 flu-related deaths among adults age 65 and younger.

For the first week of January, Kaiser Permanente reported 10.2% of its patients in Northern California hospitals were admitted with severe flu or pneumonia, the highest percentage in more than 10 years.

A Tent in the Parking Lot
Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia was forced to open a tent in the parking lot of its emergency department to handle an overflow of patients with flu-like symptoms in early January. Clovis Community Medical Center converted its main lobby into a makeshift waiting room for ED patients with flu symptoms.

Most people hospitalized with flu or pneumonia have been 65 or older but hospitalization rates for people of all ages are higher this year compared to last flu season, said Erin Murray, an epidemiologist supervisor for the CDPH.

CA Hospital Flu Vax Rate Edges Up

Although the number of cases in Northern California appears to be declining, the decline may be a temporary fluctuation, she said.

"We've seen the number of people hospitalized for influenza decrease in the Bay Area since mid-January but it's too early to tell whether the season has peaked," said Murray. "And we've seen the number of cases increasing in Central California and Southern California as well."

In Southern California, 2,433 influenza cases have been confirmed in Los Angeles County this year compared to 618 cases at this point during the 2015-2016 flu season, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The Orange County Health Care Agency said 1,218 cases of influenza have been reported so far this year, compared to 344 cases at the same time last year.

"The rapid rise in reports of illness and hospitalizations around the state make it likely that this year will be a severe flu season," said Orange County Health Officer Eric Handler, MD.

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