Health Care

Spike in flu cases stretching resources at Wichita hospitals

Rosa Chavira, a medical assistant at Hunter Health Clinic, gives a flu shot. (Sept. 14, 2012)
Rosa Chavira, a medical assistant at Hunter Health Clinic, gives a flu shot. (Sept. 14, 2012) File photo

If you haven’t received your flu shot by now, get it.

Wash your hands often.

And, if you have to cough, cough into the crook of your arm.

Those are the words of advice Sedgwick County health officials gave Tuesday to help residents prevent a further spread of the influenza that has hit Wichita hard.

“It is citywide,” said Maggie Hagan, infectious disease specialist at Via Christi. “Resources are stretched. …

“It’s about making sure the community knows we are at that point. But we have a plan.”

People are not being turned away from hospitals but there is now a more concentrated effort to coordinate all the resources between Wesley Medical Center and Via Christi hospitals.

“We have many reports of influenza-like illness, and they have put the local hospitals at capacity,” said Claudia Blackburn, director of the Sedgwick County Health Department. “Half of the cases of influenza-like cases in Sedgwick County are H1N1, and the other 50 percent are other viruses.

“All these viruses have similar symptoms, which include headache, fever, tiredness which can be very extreme, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches.”

What can you do to stop the spread of disease? Refer to the first three sentences of this story.

“There are still some flu vaccines left in the community,” Blackburn said. “… You may need to call around, but we encourage you to get vaccinated.”

Also on Tuesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a news release saying, “To date, influenza or pneumonia has directly caused or contributed to 510 deaths reported in Kansas during the current influenza season (since Sept. 1, 2013), and among those, three deaths were attributed directly to influenza.”

In the release, Robert Moser, KDHE secretary and state health officer, said young adults typically have the lowest vaccination rates, and he encouraged them to get vaccinated.

Sedgwick County’s Blackburn said the county health department has a limited supply of vaccine for uninsured adults and uninsured or underinsured children.

Wesley has maximized its resources, said Francie Ekengren, chief medical officer at Wesley Medical Center.

“We have beds available and staff available, but are limited in some of our critical care areas,” Ekengren said. “We are very confident that the control center is appropriately sending patients to the right resources in our city. We are not in this alone. EMS crews know where there are beds in this city.”

People who are ill are asked not to go to the hospitals to visit others. And no children will be allowed to visit, Ekengren said.

The hospitals are monitoring bed space hourly and updating EMS, said Laurie Labarca, administrator for hospital operations at Via Christi. It can all change within a short time, Labarca said: Within 35 minutes Monday, there were 20 walk-ins at the St. Francis campus.

“I haven’t heard CDC use the word ‘pandemic’ yet, but when we know it is really spread around our community, then we know everyone is at risk,” Hagan said. “Some years we get lucky and have a mild influenza season. This year is not particularly unusual.”

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