In the Fall of 2009 at the height of the H1N1 flu pandemic, St. Luke's was seeing nearly 1,00 patients a week at it's emergency rooms, which prompted the need to set up an additional tent at St. Luke's Meridian Medical Center to handle the influx of patients. Flu seasons since 2009 have been relatively mild, but this month Idaho and other states started seeing a spike in patients with flu-like symptoms.
BOISE, Idaho - In the last two weeks, St. Luke's has seen a spike in patients seeking treatment for the flu. The number of people coming to St. Luke's Treasure Valley emergency departments with flu-like symptoms increased from 135 cases for the week of Dec. 15 to 311 cases the week of Dec. 22.
While those numbers are still well below the number of cases St. Luke's saw in 2009 when the H1N1 flu pandemic was happening, the recent increase is an indication that this flu season in Idaho could be worse than previous years. Last year, 35 people in Idaho died from the flu and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced earlier this week the first confirmed flu death for this season.
Teresa Hall, who manages the St. Luke's emergency departments in Meridian and Boise, said the number of people coming to the emergency departments has continued to increase this week. Fortunately the majority of people seeking treatment have not been hospitalized. Most are either sent home or provided with anti-viral medication.
Hall said for most people the best advice is to not come to the emergency room when coming down with symptoms unless the symptoms are severe or the patient is in a high-risk category. Hall said when people come to the emergency department it can put others at risk of contracting the flu, so it's often best to stay home.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Flu symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting, or diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without fever.Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that result in being hospitalized and occasionally result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. The flu also can make chronic health problems worse.
For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu. The groups most at risk for developing flu-related complications include:
Despite the health risks, the CDC announced earlier this month that fewer than half of all Americans have been vaccinated for the flu this season. Hall says the vaccination is still your best defense from the flu. Hall said that it takes two weeks for the vaccination to become effective, so it's important for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible since the flu season appears to be heating up.
Check out the videos below to find out how to prevent the flu and why it is important for children to receive the flu vaccine.
Ken Dey served as Public Relations Coordinator at St. Luke's from 2008-2014.