Pennsylvania has had 22 flu-related deaths to date. However, none of them were among children, although 2 involved otherwise-healthy young people.
Doctors don't think the outbreak will slow down anytime soon.
Because of that, health officials in the Lehigh Valley are taking an extra step to prevent spreading.
Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest has set up a mobile tent to handle the surge of those with flu-like symptoms. The tent is being used for those with mild flu cases, or who have other medical conditions, to help keep them away from flu cases. Anyone needing intravenous fluids, or who has a severe case is being treated inside the emergency department or admitted right away.
And it plans to set aside a unit at its Muhlenberg campus for flu patients.
LVH officials say they would normally have about 200 patients in the Cedar Crest emergency department daily, but are now seeing 80-100 more each day.
"Across our three campuses, we are seeing hundreds of cases a day of people with flu-like illnesses," says Terry Burger, R.N., M.B.A., the director of infection control.
Nurses, doctors and other staff set up the tent this morning. It has 6 patient areas inside, all equipped to help handle the influx of pts with flulike symptoms.
Burger explains the plan.
"The idea here is to evaluate them, treat them if needed, give them prescriptions if necessary, and discharge them. So their stay in the tent should be very short," she notes.
While Lehigh Valley is the only area hospital setting up a surge tent, others are making changes in visitation policies to stem the highly-contagious virus.
The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania has put up signs, asking anyone who is sick NOT to visit their loved ones there. Similar messages are also being distributed to patients. Abington Memorial Hospital is putting all patients who have had a flu test or are taking flu antivirals on isolation. In addition, it is restricting visitors to the NICU unit to 14 years of age and over. It routinely sets that policy from October till spring as infection prevention.
In New Jersey, Virtua isn't allowing siblings in its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Voorhees, and its Special Care unit at Virtua Memorial in Mt. Holly. The hospital tells Action News it is also reviewing visitation policies for other units, and may add restrictions in the days ahead.
Most healthy people with the flu will just have to suffer thru it, treat symptoms, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids.
However, those who run the highest risk for complications, such as the very old, the very young, or those who have other health conditions, may get a prescription for Tamiflu if the virus is caught early enough.
Although flu is in full swing it's not too late for a flu shot, as the virus is expected to keep spreading.
"Unfortunately it's the beginning. This could go on for a while," says Burger.
Lehigh Valley says the tent will be used to handle the oveflow as long as needed.