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Flu Cases Pack Clinics in Parts of Southwest
« Thread started on: Dec 30th, 2005, 3:39pm »
Flu cases pack clinics in parts of Southwest
By Anita Manning, USA TODAY
Flu season is underway, mainly in the western part of the country, and likely will worsen as holiday travelers return home, in some cases carrying flu viruses with them, health experts say.
Lauren Bender examines Rima Arakelian for flu-like symptoms at a clinic in Glendale, Calif.
David McNew, Getty Images
"Disease activity is increasing, and we're seeing that largely in the Southwest at this point," said Jeanne Santoli of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Immunization Program.
Health officials in Utah and Arizona report widespread flu, and in Los Angeles, the county health department says patients with sore throats and fevers are crowding emergency rooms.
"Last year was really mild and late, but this year it seems to be hitting us earlier, and we're really seeing it skyrocket," Arizona state Epidemiologist Dave Engelthaler said. "We know it's probably going to get worse before it gets better."
More than half of Arizona's 808 lab-confirmed flu cases this season were reported the past week, Engelthaler said. Most flu cases are not verified by lab analysis, but the jump in lab-confirmed cases is an indicator of overall flu trends.
Engelthaler said in some parts of the state, sick patients are flooding into clinics and emergency rooms are "really getting overwhelmed, with 10- to 13-hour wait times."
Utah state Epidemiologist Robert Rolfs said reports of patients seeking treatment for flu symptoms are more than twice as frequent as they were this time last year. "This is a more severe influenza year than last year," he said.
The rest of the country may be next, said infectious disease specialist Brian Currie of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
"In terms of the impact of getting from the West to everyplace else, patients are traveling during the holidays, they get exposed (to flu), incubate it and come back with it," he said.
New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden issued a statement Thursday warning that hospitals are seeing an increase in patients with flu symptoms, indicating "there are potentially thousands of New Yorkers spreading the flu."
Annual flu season usually peaks between late December and March, says the CDC, but Currie says the season is getting off to a slightly late start. "We'll probably get hit with it right after the holidays," he said.
The good news, officials say, is that there's an ample supply of flu vaccine and it's not too late to be immunized.
"Right now, more than 78 million doses have been distributed," said Santoli. That's short of the record 83 million doses given in 2003, she said, but it's close to the number expected to seek vaccination.
Last year, only 61 million doses were available, because one of the major vaccine makers, Chiron, had its license suspended in October, cutting in half the expected flu vaccine supply for the USA.
Chiron's vaccine was delayed this year by changes needed at its manufacturing plant in Liverpool, England, and because of that, Santoli said, some doctors received their orders late and some are still waiting.