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Flu season hits Eastside hospitals

Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center

By JACQUELINE FERNANDEZ

This year’s severe and deadly flu season has left some hospitals that serve the Eastside struggling to treat patients who have faced long waits to see a doctor.

While some medical centers report that conditions seem to be returning to normal,  others have been straining to handle the large number of patients suffering from the flu as well as winter colds and other health problems.

“Wait times at our Los Angeles hospital are double the normal wait times,”  said Dr. Nilesh J. Patel, assistant area medical director at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, which is spread over several blocks of Sunset Boulevard in East Hollywood. “But we are prepared to handle this surge in patients.”

Across the street at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,  hospital beds have been filling up. “If you have a child that is ill, but is still playful and eating ok, keep them home instead of coming to the hospital,” said Dr. Pia Pannaraj, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

California’s flu season is one of the worst the state has seen in a long time. On January 10, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced the flu activity was increasing countywide.  There were 36 confirmed influenza-associated deaths in L.A. County compared to 13 deaths last year, according to county health officials.

The culprit for the nasty flu season is the influenza A strain known as H3N2. This strain is particularly good at mutating, making it more difficult to vaccinate.

Health officials urge the public to get vaccinated. Those of high risk for flu complications include children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years and older, and pregnant women.

Pannaraj, the infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital, said people should not think it’s too late to get that flu shot. Children are susceptible to getting complications from the flu, she said.  In fact, there are cases where a patient will get better from the initial illness and then come down with a second bacterial infection that can lead to pneumonia.

Many L.A. area emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and clinics have set up dedicated flu clinics and flu care areas. This allows patients with the flu to be separated from other patients who aren’t infected.

At Kaiser’s medical center in East Hollywood, staff has been increased and the emergency department has implemented a “fast track” for patients
“to keep our wait times under control,” said Patel, the assistant area medical director.

There does appear some good news during this bad flu season.  At the L.A. County-USC Medical Center in Lincoln Heights, the number of flu cases appear to be tapering off, said Michael Wilson, a spokesman for the county health services department.

“Our Emergency Dept at LAC+USC Medical Center notifies that things have quieted considerably related to influenza cases and wait time is normal,” Wilson said.

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