REGION — Influenza is still going strong in one of the worst season’s in recent memory.
Emergency room and doctor visits are up throughout the county and the latest strain of the flu is still responsible for hundreds of cases per week.
According to San Diego County, 247 new cases were reported in the last week of March, with seven deaths. The total number of cases this season is 20,131 with 326 deaths.
Palomar Medical Center Escondido, at 2158 Citracado Pkwy., used surge tents in January to treat hundreds of patients, according to Derryl Acosta, public relations manager.
He said a typical day in the emergency room has about 280 visits, but increased flu cases grew the number to the mid- to high-300s with one day seeing more than 400 patients. Hospital staff trains quarterly for mass casualty incidents, which provided an effective system to treat flu patients, with a small percentage being admitted. Another reason for the tents was to avoid flu patients infecting other ER patients, Acosta added. The surge tents averaged between 30 to 40 patients per day with highs reaching about 50.
He said the hospital saw a spike after Thanksgiving and continued into December, triggering the surge tents, which were removed before Christmas.
While the average daily ER visits is about 280, Acosta said the number jumped to 313 in December, 305 in January, 296 in February and 301 in March.
“In early January, the waits were up to eight hours due to the population of flu patients,” he said of the ER. “We had so many patients it overwhelmed the ER.”
In addition, the ER saw more visits on weekends as patients could not see their primary care physician as most of those offices were closed.
During the week of March 16, the county reported 11 deaths bringing the season’s total to 319 prior to the release of last week’s reports. Nearly all deaths had an underlying condition, the county also reported. The number of reported cases dropped to 399 from 685 the previous week, while flu patient emergency room visits dropped from 4 percent to 3 percent.
In contrast, last year 80 deaths were attributed to the flu, while the total confirmed cases tallied 5,203. The prior three-year average, according to the county, was 5,872 cases and 73 deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend anyone 6 months or older get vaccinated. The immunity takes two weeks to develop.
Also, the county and CDC recommend precautions such as thorough and regular hand washing; use of hand sanitizers; staying away from sick people; avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth; cleaning common surfaces; and staying at home when sick.