Worst flu season in 4 years leads to crammed emergency rooms

Hospital room (KXAN File Photo)
Hospital room (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Emergency room visits are at an all-time high as Austin doctors work through what they are calling the worst flu season in four years.

“The number of visits at health care systems, physician offices and urgent care centers over the past week has really exploded,” said Dr. Ken Mitchell, the chief medical officer with St. David’s HealthCare.

Mitchell says the hospital first started to see a spike in flu cases last December. Travis County health officials confirm there have been 11 influenza deaths, all of whom were over the age of 50, this season as of Jan. 11. Additionally 1,200 people have tested positive for influenza.

“If you feel that your symptoms are severe or life threatening, the things I would think about are — you have a very high fever that you’re unable to control with normal measures like Tylenol or ibuprofen, or you’re beginning to experience shortness of breath, extreme dizziness or feel like you are getting dehydrated, then I would strongly encourage you to either call 911 or get yourself to the nearest emergency room to be evaluated,” said Mitchell.

Along with the flu, doctors say they are also seeing an increase of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, in adults. Doctors say RSV is common in babies and young children, but rare in adults.

“RSV and influenza are both viral illnesses, they both tend to cause primarily respiratory type symptoms,” said Mitchell. “RSV tends to be a much milder illness.”

Doctors are still unsure why they are also seeing an increase in RSV in adults.

On average according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 57,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized for RSV every year. And there are about 14,000 deaths related to RSV among adults older than 65 each year.

Both the flu and RSV have similar symptoms like fever, coughing and runny noses. However, only the flu includes symptoms of fatigue, sore throats and muscle or body aches. A decrease in appetite and wheezing are signs that it may be RSV.

As some experts project Texas has reached the peak of flu season, local schools and day cares are doing everything possible to make sure those they take care of are not spreading germs.

“We get our rooms cleaned twice a day. Once during nap time, so mid-day, and then another more thorough one in the afternoon when we close, when all the kiddos are gone,” said The Kid Ranch Preschool Director Gwen Garcia.

It’s a practice Garcia says they do throughout the year, but are taking it even more serious as flu numbers across the state skyrocket.

“If someone is out with the flu or something to be of concern, they will give us a phone call and give us a heads up so we can make sure other parents are aware. We also post it outside of our classroom doors,” said Garcia.

With more cases surfacing every day, doctors say it’s best to take as many precautions as possible. “Just a little bit of extra distance between you and another person can be the difference between you getting sick or you getting someone else sick,” said Mitchell. “Also wash your hands and carry anti-bacterial gel or spray in your purse, pants or suitcase.”

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