Local News

Flu Outbreak Taxes Local Hospitals As N.C. Waits For More Vaccine

Posted December 14, 2003

— The local flu outbreak has emptied classrooms and businesses and filled doctors' offices all month. It recently has been taxing resources at hospitals, as well.

This weekend marked a full house at the emergency room at Rex Hospital. Doctors and nurses barely have had a chance to catch their breath. They say they are treating lots of flu cases and seeing lots of people with minor symptoms who are just worried it could be the flu.

"It has been the busiest that I've ever seen it," ER nurse Darci Shaver said.

Emergency-room personnel have been taking extra precautions. Most doctors and nurses have been wearing masks all the time and handing masks out to patients in the waiting room.

ERs also have been running low on beds. Shaver said that, at Rex, there have been so many patients in recent days that the Emergency Department needs help.

"We've made tremendous adjustments," Shaver said. "We've had such a high volume that we've actually been pulling staff from other areas to either help transport or staff our department."

A spokesperson for Raleigh Community Hospital said all their ICU beds are full. They are keeping patients in the ER until they can find extra space.

To help ease crowding a little and reduce the risk of spreading the flu, many hospitals like Rex are trying to limit the number of visitors.

"You put yourself at risk when you get into a closed confined area with a bunch of ill people who very well may have influenza," Shaver said. "So, if you're not sick, stay away."

People with flu symptoms are not allowed to visit local hospitals at all.

Wake Med also says they still have been seeing a steady flow of patients with flu symptoms, but the ER is not nearly as crowded as it was earlier this week.

The hospitals' issues have begun just as new shipments of vaccine were sent to North Carolina. So optimism is on the horizon.

The

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

has shipped an additional 2,490 doses of traditional injectable vaccine to North Carolina, and an additional 7,500 doses are expected next week.

In addition, the

North Carolina Division of Public Health Immunization Branch

also has negotiated to have FluMist intranasal spray vaccine administered through the health departments at a substantially reduced price that is comparable to the traditional vaccine.

The additional vaccine will be shipped to only local health departments. It will only be used for high-risk patients -- children 6 to 23 months, children and adults with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women in their second and third trimesters, and seniors over 65 years of age.

Immunization officials are working with local health departments to determine statewide need.

FluMist can be taken by healthy people between 5 and 49 years of age.

"Our public health team at state and local level has done a great deal of work in the past couple of days assessing the needs and working to fill those needs," State Health Director Dr. Leah Devlin said. "We realize that this is still a very limited supply of traditional vaccine, but we want to make sure it is distributed where it is most needed.

"Offering FluMist through the local health departments will also provide a vaccine for healthy people 5 to 49 years of age."

Devlin also cautioned against panic.

"The vast majority of people who get the flu recover," she said. "The best advice we can give parents and flu-sufferers is that if symptoms worsen dramatically -- if you see a marked change in breathing or blue lips that indicate a reduced oxygen supply -- get to a doctor quickly."

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