Hospitals across the country are filling up with patients experiencing symptoms of the flu.
“We all have increased our staffing and we are ready to take in any influx of patients that come through the system,” said Dr. Meena Iyer, chief medical officer at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said the flu virus has already claimed more than 1,155 lives since October. Four of them were under the age of 18. Those numbers don't even include all of December or January and the flu season hasn't even peaked yet.
“This year we have seen a lot of cases of kids presenting with the flu and we've seen it much earlier than we normally see,” Iyer said.
It has been several years since Texas has reported numbers so high. The last significant outbreak was back in 2009, when swine flu became so widespread Dell Children's Medical Center set up triage tents outside the hospital to accommodate all the patients coming in.
“So for us at Dell Children's, we made sure we had all beds available for any child who walks in the door and we also had medical tents put up in a helipad in the parking garage so we could take care of those kids,” said Iyer.
The hospital has since expanded, meaning they expect to have enough rooms to avoid using triage tents this time, but doctors fear the flu could affect a similar number of people before the season ends.
“I just hope it doesn't become like 2009, but the number of cases we're seeing and the rise it's taking, I'm afraid we may soon be in the same scenario as 2009,” Iyer said.
In Austin, Dell Seton and Dell Children's Medical Center staff are asking patients not to go directly to the emergency room if they believe they have contracted the flu. Instead, they ask patients to contact a clinic or primary care physician first.
“If things are not getting any better 3-4 days into the illness, still not able to control the fever, having significant cough, not eating or drinking well, not having enough urine output, that's when I would come to the emergency room so that they can be taken care of immediately,” said Iyer.
Healthcare professionals said reducing the number of flu patients at emergency rooms will help stop the virus from spreading as quickly.
Doctors are also advising parents not to take their children to crowded places like supermarkets during this flu season.