Widespread flu causing long waits at AZ emergency rooms

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(Source: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo) (Source: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo)

Does it seem like almost everyone you know these days is sick?

Health officials say flu activity is at record levels in Arizona.

[RELATED: Officials: Flu cases are up 758% from last year]

And now, there are several hospitals statewide which are experiencing long emergency room wait times due to the increased number of sick Arizonans.

After consulting with health care and public health partners, the Arizona Department of Health Services is advising ill people to only seek emergency medical care if they are at high risk for serious complications or are experiencing severe symptoms. 

“Influenza is a very serious illness, so if you’re at high risk or have symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, confusion, persistent vomiting, cannot drink fluids, or have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever or worse cough, seek emergency medical care immediately,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

[RELATED: Flu season is here and experts are already concerned]

People at high risk of serious complications from influenza are:

  • Children younger than 5 years old
  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • People with chronic disease, especially heart and lung disease
  • People with immunosuppression, including that caused by medications or by HIV infection
  • Women who are pregnant or postpartum (within 2 weeks after delivery)
  • People younger than 19 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives
  • People with extreme obesity
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities

[RELATED: Widow warns others about the danger of not getting a flu shot]

"If you have symptoms and are in a high-risk group, or if you feel very sick or worried about your illness, talk to your medical provider,” Dr. Christ said. “Most people with mild flu symptoms will get better without seeing the doctor and should stay home to prevent spreading it to others. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest when you have the flu. You can also treat symptoms with over the counter medications."

Getting vaccinated against influenza is the most effective way to protect yourself from the disease. It can take up to two weeks to build full immunity to influenza after you are vaccinated, so everyone needs to get the flu shot immediately. People can find a place to get vaccinated at vaccinefinder.org. Even if you are vaccinated, you can help prevent influenza from spreading by washing your hands frequently, covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, avoiding touching your face, and staying home when you are sick.

[RELATED: Dad fighting for his life after ignoring flu symptoms, family says]

“Someone with influenza can spread the disease when they cough, sneeze or talk, which creates influenza droplets that can land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby,” Dr. Christ said. “You can also catch influenza by touching a surface or object that the virus lands on and then touching your mouth, nose or other parts of your face. If you have the flu or flu-like symptoms, stay home. And if your kids have the flu or flu-like symptoms, keep them home from school.”

There have been 7,978 cases of influenza reported this season, with 2,453 reported the last week of December 2017. Compared to the same time period in 2016, there were 834 total cases and 282 cases reported in the last week of December 2016. This is the highest number of seasonal cases this early since influenza tests became reportable. During the past two seasons, Arizona did not reach widespread activity until February.

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