What does it feel like to be working in an emergency room during this nasty flu season? Monday. Every day feels like Monday, typically the busiest time of week in the ER.
“Now instead of having a Monday peak, it’s seven days a week of a Monday,” said Dr. Bill Frohna, who runs the emergency department at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
It’s still too soon to say whether this is a historically bad flu season. But it’s already clear that emergency rooms around the country are filled with a feverish throng that is much larger than the last time around.
Washington Hospital Center had just 20 patients test positive for flu all of the last season. This season, as of Monday, there were already 179 cases positive for flu.
Maria McCoy is one of those patients. She had been miserable for more than a week with nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. She’d had her flu shot, so she didn’t think it could be the flu. But she kept getting worse.
“I called 911. They brought me straight here,” said McCoy, 52, speaking on Thursday from a hospital bed in the ER, where she was, indeed, diagnosed with the flu. “It’s really miserable.”
McCoy has plenty of company.
“We started to see a lot of activity in the South and in the Southeast in the middle of November and toward the end of November, which was about a month earlier than what we normally see,” said Tom Skinner, a spokesman with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “And since that time, activity really has picked up across the country to where most states are seeing either moderate to severe activity.”
According to the CDC, more than 112 million Americans have been vaccinated against flu this season. The vaccine is about 60 percent effective, which is a decent percentage for a flu vaccine. But that means some people who get immunized, like McCoy, will still get the flu.
This year’s strain of the flu, H3N2, is particularly virulent, Frohna said. He compared the surge in patients with those in other years.
“Usually there’s a week or two ramp up, a peak, and then a week or two downturn,” Frohna said. “So far, we’ve been basically on a ramp up for about five weeks, and I’m not sure if we’ve seen the peak yet.”
Every few years we hear warnings that “this year could be a bad one” as flu season rolls around. Well, this year is a bad one.
Hospitals are barring visitors. Emergency rooms are overflowing. People are dying. ProudMilitaryMom’s own mother was one of the victims.
We have lost much of our fear of influenza. Thanks to modern medicine and good luck the flu is usually more of an inconvenience than a life-threatening virus. We have discovered vaccines and effective treatments. Meanwhile it’s been many years since a pandemic of a killer strain has reached our shores. In 1918-19 the Spanish Flu killed 50 million people worldwide.
This particular strain is really nasty. I’m no medical expert but I know that all strains of the flu are dangerous for young children and old people. This one is laying out everyone it hits and it doesn’t seem to care if they were vaccinated or not.
Protect yourself. Avoid public places and crowds. Practice good hygiene. Stock up on OTC medications now. If you or someone close to you gets ill, make sure you/they stay well hydrated and rested.
Right now the flu is hitting hardest in the northeast, but I’m sure it will visit every neighborhood in the nation before it’s done. I plan on staying in semi-quarantine for the next couple weeks.
Our thoughts and prayers are with PMM and her family.