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PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center emergency entrance (November 2016). Photo: My Ferndale News

Patients with flu symptoms putting a strain on medical facilities

Local health care facilities, including PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, are experiencing full waiting rooms and a high demand for treatment for flu and other circulating illnesses according to an announcement today from the Whatcom County Health Department (WCHD). To help ease the crowding at local clinics and the hospital, people who have mild flu symptoms are being asked to contact their primary health care provider before going to an emergency care facility.

WCHD says the emergency room should be used for people who are very sick. In most cases, people experiencing mild flu symptoms without high risk of flu complications should stay home and avoid contact with others except to get medical care.

Flu symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and diarrhea and vomiting. Most people with the flu have mild or moderate illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.

Seasonal flu is caused by viruses and between 5% to 20% of people in the US get the flu each year. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February and activity can last as late as May. Flu season is often referred to as the period of October through May.

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If you have any of the following emergency warning signs, you should consider going to the emergency room.

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away if an infant has any of these signs.

  • Being unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In adults

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  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

According to the Washington State Department of Health’s influenza updates, flu activity was increasing during the week of January 7th to the 13th in Washington.

28 schools (out of 49 schools reporting) in Whatcom County reported at least one day during the week of January 14th to the 20th on which their absenteeism rate exceeded 10%.

There have been 4 lab confirmed, influenza-related deaths reported in Whatcom County to date this flu season according to WCHD.

state map 2017-18 Influenza Season Week 3 ending Jan 20 CDC
State map for 2017-18 influenza season Week 3 ending January 20th. Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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