Area hospitals saw an early and dramatic spike in flu cases this season.
“They predicted we’d see an earlier season and a more severe season, and that’s what happened,” said Rhonda Molde, microbiology manager for Via Christi Hospitals. “Last year we didn’t see numbers peak until March, and this year, we saw a whole bunch in December.”
Hospitals were at near capacity earlier this month, but numbers seem to be heading down now, she said.
“Last week we started to see it decline, but I would like to see another week,” Molde said.
A year ago, the highest number of flu patients Via Christi saw was 40 in a week. This year, that number went up to 108.
Sedgwick County Health Department Director Claudia Blackburn updated commissioners Wednesday about the flu.
She said 500 people — 90 percent of them age 65 and older — have died of influenza or pneumonia in Kansas since September.
She stressed that elderly people should not take care of sick children because they are most at risk for influenza.
Blackburn also encouraged people to get a flu shot, which is 60 percent effective, if they haven’t already. People should call their primary health care provider to see if their doctor has the vaccine available.
The health department’s supply is about 200 doses, she said. The health department is making free flu shots available to uninsured adults and uninsured and underinsured children.
People may call the health department at 316-660-7300 to find out if they qualify for a flu shot.
Blackburn also urged people to stay home from work or school when they are sick and remain home until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours without medicine.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, a sore throat, chills, headaches and body aches. Blackburn said diarrhea and vomiting typically aren’t associated with the flu but sometimes can be.
Blackburn encouraged people who think they may have the flu to call their health care provider for advice before going to an emergency room or an urgent care center. She said people can be exposed to flu or spread the virus in waiting rooms.
Andrea Snyder, RN clinical coordinator for Via Christi, said hospitals were at critical capacity a week or two ago.
“We were getting ready to line them up in the hallway but we aren’t now,” she said.
Susan Burchill, public relations specialist at Wesley Medical Center, said the hospital was diverting patients about a week ago.
“Our numbers are better now,” she said.