Via Christi Hospital St. Francis is nearing capacity because of a combination of flu, pneumonia and related illnesses, hospital officials say.
“We are in the throes of our flu epidemic,” said Maggie Hagan, infectious disease specialist for Via Christi.
The increase in patients has led to longer wait times at the 400-bed hospital. Officials recommend that people who are exhibiting signs of cold or flu refrain from visiting friends and relatives in the hospital.
“We don’t want to bring viruses into the hospital and infect our patients,” Hagan said.
So far, there have been 53 lab-confirmed cases of flu in Via Christi’s Wichita hospitals.
Each year, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The most prevalent strain of flu this year is H1N1, according to a Sedgwick County Health Department report. The vast majority of cases at Via Christi have been that strain, Hagan said, which has commonly been referred to as the “swine flu.”
“It’s the same strain we began to have a problem with in 2009,” she said.
“Influenza in general tends to sicken the elderly more so than younger people, or at least they tend to have a more complicated illness. … In 2009, it really hit hard in the younger-adult population, college age and young adults, and that may be the case this year as well.”
She said it was especially difficult in 2009 since H1N1 was not included in the flu vaccine that year, but it is included in this year’s vaccine.
It’s still not too late to get a flu shot, Hagan said.
As a precaution, Via Christi mandated flu vaccines for its employees this year.
“I’m hopeful that will make a difference,” Hagan said.
Flu symptoms include coughing or a sore throat, high fever and body aches. Health care providers encourage people to stay home from work and school if they think they are sick.
So far, this flu season has not been as severe as last year, Hagan said, but that could change.
“I think we’re at the very beginning of it,” Hagan said. “My hope would be that this is our peak. But I can’t say whether that’s the case or not.”
Via Christi St. Francis is making a transition to all-private patient rooms. Patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms are being isolated from other patients or are being put in rooms with patients who have similar symptoms.
Karen Bally, registered nurse and infection control coordinator at Via Christi, said there have been instances where patients en route to St. Francis via emergency medical services have been redirected to St. Joseph because of capacity issues.
The orders to redirect are being evaluated on a daily basis, she said.
If it’s an emergency, people should still go to the nearest hospital, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control announced widespread influenza in Kansas at the end of December.
Hospital officials encourage people to wash their hands frequently and to visit their family physician during regular hours for nonemergencies.
Officials at Wesley Medical Center say they have had an uptick in patients with influenza and pneumonia, but they are not diverting patients from the hospital.