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Health experts say flu cases on the rise

October 1, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
If the worse case swine flu scenario were to happen, experts say California's health care system would be devastated. Local hospital administrators say all indicators show flu cases are definitely on the rise.Top hospital administrators are keeping a close eye on a emergency room cases, outpatient visits and antiviral medication use and all the trends point up.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health care advocacy organization, predicts big states like California will be hit exceptionally hard if 35 percent of Americans were to get the H1N1 virus. Approximately13 million Californians could get sick, 168,000 could be hospitalized and 125 percent of hospital beds would be filled.

To prevent this from every happening, Kaiser Permanente's Dr. Charles Winarko says hospitals have to address the possible rush on emergency rooms.

His staff activated a phone center to help keep non-urgent patients at home.

To prevent this from every happening, Dr. Winarko says hospitals have to address the rush on emergency departments. Kaiser has set up an phone call triage system where patients can call to see if they stay home head to the hospital.

"At Kaiser they can call our call center and we have doctors on the phone who can give the advice and tell the patient whether they have the flu or not," said Dr. Winarko.

If hospital beds do fill up, the next part of the plan would be to postpone elective surgeries. But right now, Dr. Winarko says the most important thing is prevention, which includes hygiene and vaccination.

When it comes to prevention, there's a lot of controversy about masks. A new report in JAMA says a regular surgical mask maybe just as good as an N95 respirator in preventing the flu in a health care setting.

"If you don't have the N95 the next best thing is the surgical mask," said Dr. Winarko. "We recommend if someone come in with the flu that they wear the mask so they don't contaminate everyone else."

But if the worst were to happen you should stay calm.

"Don't' panic! Panicking makes things worse," said Dr. Winarko.

And we've learned that the biggest manufacturers of the seasonal flu vaccines are reducing the number of doses shipped, partly because of the crunch to produce such a large amount of swine flu vaccines. One company says the second shipment of vaccines may not arrive until November.

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