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Riverside

Flu Cases Surge in Riverside, Straining Resources

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Riverside, CA -

Though not yet an epidemic, Riverside officials said Thursday the city's downtown hospital and other facilities are struggling to cope with a "significant rise'' in flu cases and urged those in otherwise good health to recover at home to keep from overburdening limited medical resources.

"Fortunately, most of the patients we're seeing have uncomplicated influenza,'' said Dr. Steven Kim, medical director for Riverside Community Hospital, who took part in a news briefing outside City Hall. "These are patients who can get better on heir own without significant treatment. Some people, however, do have serious complications and can develop pneumonia.''

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Kim said that over the last several weeks, a total of 75 flu patients were admitted to the hospital for acute care. Most of the severely ill are seniors, small children and those with compromised immune systems, according to the doctor.

He said the emergency room at RCH has been flooded with people presenting flu-like symptoms, estimating a 40 percent spike in patient volume compared to the norm.

"It's a significant rise, but most of the volume is uncomplicated flu,'' Kim said. "These patients could truly stay home instead of rushing in to the emergency room. People with life-threatening injuries and serious medical problems need to come first.''

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Barbara Cole, an infectious diseases specialist for the Riverside University Health System, said most jurisdictions within Riverside County had recorded a spike in flu cases. A Murrieta child died from influenza complications on Dec 14.

"Activity has increased substantially, but it's not quite defined as an epidemic yet,'' Cole said. She said the surge was comparable to conditions 15 years ago, when there was a sudden swell in the number of people seeking medical attention for flu-like symptoms.

The outbreak is taxing clinical resources at all levels, including ambulance services, which in the last week of December witnessed a 31 percent jump in calls for service, according to county officials.

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Cole said the predominant flu strain is Influenza A, which correlates to seasonal, or "cyclical,'' flu. There was no consensus on why the surge had occurred, particularly so early in flu season, which is generally at its worst between mid-January and early March, according to Cole.

The California Department of Public Health reported widespread influenza activity in the first half of December, impacting all but a few counties. Cole, Kim, Riverside County Public Health Officer Cameron Kaiser and other officials emphasized the importance of taking preventative steps, such as getting a flu shot.

"The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, after the antibodies build up,'' Cole said, adding that the vaccine remains in the bloodstream for an extended period, bolstering the receiver's immune system in time for the next flu season.

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Cole and the doctors acknowledged that the vaccines available this year "may not be 100 percent'' effective against flu bugs now on the prowl, but they will nonetheless ``reduce the severity of the illness'' and hasten recovery.

According to Cole, frequent hand-washing and "social distancing'' are sure methods to avoid contracting the flu, which is passed through droplets from a sick person's cough or sneeze.

"Most people should stay home if they're ill. Don't spread the flu at work or school,'' said Geoffrey Leung, a family practitioner at Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley. "People want to feel better immediately, but it can take two weeks to recover. We want everybody to seek the right care at the right place at the right time.''

Influenza is a respiratory illness marked by fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, head and body aches. Vomiting and diarrhea are also known to occur. Kim, Leung and Cole said drinking plenty of fluids, getting plenty of rest and taking over-the-counter products like Tylenol are helpful in recovery.
 

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