Flu season blamed for packed emergency rooms, ambulance backlogs in California

Flu season blamed for packed emergency rooms, ambulance backlogs in California
California is battling a tough flu season. (eldinhoid/Getty Images)

Flu season is hitting California so hard that people are packing emergency rooms, flu medications are running out, and the death toll is rising, the Los Angeles Times reported. In some areas, flu-related emergency calls are causing ambulance backlogs.

Late December marked the start of a sharp increase in flu activity in the state, and it shows no signs of letting up. According to California health officials, 27 people under age 65 have died from the flu since October, the Times reported. Last year, the state reported three flu-related deaths from October through early January.

What areas are impacted?

All areas of California are being hit hard by the flu, according to the report.

In Southern California, an emergency room at the UCLA Medical Center treated about 200 patients in one day. Most of them were seeking relief from flu symptoms. Normally, about 140 patients are seen in a day, according to the report.

“The Northridge earthquake was the last time we saw over 200 patients,” the ER’s medical director, Dr. Wally Ghurabi, told the Times.

Elsewhere, ambulance services in Riverside and Bernandino counties are being strained by the volume of flu-related calls, according to the report. Emergency rooms are so crowded that ambulances can’t drop off patients.

“The ambulances have to wait … and if they’re waiting there, they can’t be out on calls,” Jose Arballo Jr., spokesman for the Riverside County Department of Public Health, told the Times.

The level of flu activity in the state is causing concern for some experts. One doctor suggested this could shape up to be the worst flu season in a decade.

“Rates of influenza are even exceeding last year, and last year was one of the worst flu seasons in the last decade,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, clinical lead of the flu vaccine program for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, told the Times.

Why is flu season so bad?

Flu season arrived early this year, and that is adding to the misery. Also, the flu hitting California and the rest of the nation this year is the dangerous H3N2 strain, according to the report.

“It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,” Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County’s interim health officer.

Another concern this year is an increase in the number of elderly patients coming down with both the flu and pneumonia, the Times reported. The combination is potentially fatal, especially for the elderly.

“You have no choice but to admit them and hydrate them on IV antibiotics to prevent — God forbid — a bad outcome,” Ghurabi told the Times.

While all of this is happening, the flu medication Tamiflu is becoming difficult to find, according to the report. In some cases doctors are prescribing the medication but patients are unable to get it because pharmacies have run out.