Influenza A (H3N2) responsible for six flu-related deaths in Riverside County this flu season
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor
Last week, Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-36) hosted a town hall teleconference on this season’s flu epidemic. Daniel B. Jernigan, M.D., M.P.H., the director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Kim Saruwatari, the new director for the Riverside University Health System – Public Health (RUHS-PH) Department, were both on the call with Ruiz to give constituents an update on the flu and answer constituents’ questions.
According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Influenza A (H3N2) viruses are predominating this season. Ruiz, Jernigan and Saruwatari answered questions about how to best arm oneself against the flu, when it is ok to go back to work or school, and the current stats affecting Ruiz’s congressional district.
The CDPH recommends washing your hands often, coughing and sneezing into your sleeve or a tissue, and staying home when you are sick.
Ruiz, an emergency room doctor, recommended waiting 24-hours after being fever-free without the assistance of a fever-reducing medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen before returning to work or school. He also recommends coughing or sneezing into a tissue – a sleeve will still suffice – so that you can immediately throw it away. Then, Ruiz recommends, wash your hands.
Ruiz also promoted getting the flu shot. CDPH also recommends getting vaccinated, stating in the report that it “is the best protection against this potentially serious disease.”
How is it impacting our valley?
The Valley Chronicle contacted Hemet Valley Medical Center (HVMC) for this season’s statistics on the San Jacinto Valley and how it compares to the last flu season.
According to HVMC, between Dec.1, 2017 – Jan. 22, 2018, 8,725 patients were diagnosed with flu-like symptoms. Another 860 patients were diagnosed with the actual influenza and nine patients were admitted to the hospital. At press time, no patients had been transferred to another facility with influenza.
HVMC shows there were 217 more visits (a 47 percent increase) to the Emergency Department in December 2017 than in December 2016. So far, HVMC has seen 292 more patients (an 88 percent increase) this January than in January 2016.
The medical center did not have any influenza-related deaths in 2016 or 2017. Unfortunately, there have been three influenza-related deaths so far this season – ages 62, 82 and 88.
In a weekly report published by the CDPH for the week of Jan. 7-13, there were 32 reported deaths in California during that week alone, taking the count from 42 to 74 influenza-related deaths this season for those under age 65. In Riverside County, there have been six influenza-related deaths to date. The first flu-related death for this flu season was on Dec. 15.
Jose Arballo Jr., senior public information specialist for RUHS-PH, gave The Valley Chronicle the following update on flu-related deaths.
“Influenza associated deaths: six (so far in the 2017-18 flu season),” Arballo stated in an email. “Note that there were two flu-associated deaths during the 2016-17 flu season.”
There have been “ICU cases: 35 so far in 2017-18 flu season,” according to Arballo.
During the town hall, Ruiz stated that the limited supply of Tamiflu to Riverside County was a distribution issue; not a production issue. Ted Ellinger, BSN, RN, PHN, PHH-director of infection prevention at HVMC, confirmed that statement with the newspaper.
“It appears to be a vendor shortage,” stated Ellinger.
Impact on first responders
In a joint press release, RUHS-PH and San Bernardino County Department of Public Health said, “The Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency (REMSA) and Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency (ICEMA) are reporting a significant increase in recent emergency responses and ambulance transports, combined with increased delays at hospitals during transports. As a result, fewer ambulances are available to respond at any given time to 911 calls.
Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown said, “The flu epidemic has had a huge impact on emergency services and is impacting wall time (the time it takes to process a patient once accepted into the ER) to local area hospitals resulting in delays at the emergency room and impacts the system on a regional basis.”
AMR Operations Manager Jack Hansen told the newspaper, “During a three week period over last Christmas and New Year’s holidays we have experienced a significant increase in calls to 911, many associated with early flu outbreak.
“This has resulted in increased delays in time offloading patients at many of our hospitals, but we have been working with all of our healthcare partners to minimize the effect on the 911 system resources. During this high volume demand period, AMR has added more units on duty and our people have been working extra shifts to keep up with the demand. Thanks to their diligence and professionalism we have been able to manage the situation. Although seemingly overwhelmed with patients during this time, HVMC Administration and Emergency Room staff worked closely with us to mitigate delays and return ambulances to availability,” concluded Hansen.