Despite a surge this week in the number of patients seeking emergency room treatment for flu-like symptoms, the season as a whole remains about average in terms of severity, the chief medical officer of the Southern Nevada Health District said Wednesday.
Dr. Joe Iser said no hospital in the Las Vegas Valley declared a state of “internal disaster” on Wednesday after several had done so the previous two days. Such a declaration diverts ambulances to the next closest hospital with the capacity to treat those patients.
Seven hospitals temporarily closed to ambulances for several hours at a time Monday, and four did the same Tuesday, according to health district officials. That prompted the health district to advise the ailing to think twice before going to ERs and advise hospitals to closely monitor staff and equipment to determine whether diverting patients is necessary.
Last year’s flu season was relatively mild, Iser said, and the current patient activity is more in line with what Southern Nevadans deal with during an average year. So far this season, two deaths in Southern Nevada have been linked to the flu.
Ambulance traffic has not been responsible for stretching resources to the limit this week in valley emergency rooms, Iser added.
“We think it’s the walk-ins and drive-ins who are pushing the numbers,” Iser said. “We got hit very hard this week.”
Dr. Dale Carrison, chief of staff at University Medical Center, said the number of patients hasn’t risen, but the people coming to the ER require breathing treatments, intravenous fluids and other therapies that keep ER staffers and equipment occupied.
“We looked at the traffic flow from (emergency medical services), and the volume is not up. What’s up is the acuity. It’s real difficult to quantify, but we’re not seeing more people, just more people who are really sick,” Carrison said. “Some of these people have real serious cases of the flu.”
UMC and the three St. Rose Dominican Hospitals have diverted ambulance traffic in the past week because of the increase in patients with flu-like symptoms.
None of the facilities in the Sunrise hospital group were forced to do so.
Representatives for the Valley Health System and North Vista Hospital were not available to comment Wednesday.
Iser is urging patients with fever, cough or sore throat, runny or stuffy noses, headaches or body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea to seek care from their primary care physician.
Some doctors familiar enough with their patients might even prescribe antiviral medications over the phone, saving the person a trip to the doctor’s office.
“You might get treated more quickly at an urgent care or primary care clinic than at an emergency department,” Iser said.
People with difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, sudden dizziness or confusion, or severe or persistent vomiting should go to an emergency room.
Dr. Rakesh Kalra said the HealthCare Partners Nevada clinic where he practices on Lake Mead Parkway in Henderson has seen a steady increase in patients with flu-like symptoms.
“I haven’t seen a plateau in our clinic yet,” Kalra said. “It’s been a really busy season so far.”