RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- Southern California health officials are seeing a big spike in flu cases this year, putting a strain on hospitals and triggering new reminders about vaccination.
In Riverside County, for example, there were 3,415 ambulance transports related to the flu, a spike of 31 percent above the average.
"It's been overwhelming for a lot of facilities," said Dr. Michael Neri, medical director of Kaiser Permanente in Riverside. "It's much more busy this year than it's been for the past several years."
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Resident Rick Rodela brought his mother to the hospital and said they waited for two days in the emergency room.
"It's rough. There were people waiting there for three days in the emergency room because there's no beds upstairs," he said. "The coughing, high fevers, and (my mom) was unable to breathe so we brought her in."
The surge in flu cases is creating longer wait times at hospitals and heavier workloads for paramedics. Some pharmacies are also reporting shortages of the Tamiflu medication.
And throughout the state, flu cases are hitting earlier and harder than usual.
Normally flu season peaks by the end of January, but the early start has officials worried. Across the country, there have been more than 13,000 confirmed cases of flu, about six times the number reported around the same time last year.
Vulnerable populations, including the elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with health conditions, are seen as particularly vulnerable to the flu.
"More people die from the flu every year than they do from breast cancer, so it's very serious. It's something that doctors take seriously every year," Neri said.
The public is recommended to get vaccinations even if they are not in the high-risk group.
Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
Influenza cases spiking in SoCal this season
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