High flu activity pushing NJ hospitals to capacity

Doctors report a flood of flu patients across New Jersey, so many it’s straining resources at emergency rooms and clinics like RWJ University Hospital.

“The hospitals are really starting to be overwhelmed. Our ERs are at full capacity. Our hospital’s running over capacity right now,” said Dr. Susan Boruchoff. “This is mostly flu. There’s also other respiratory viruses going around, but a lot of it’s influenza.”

Boruchoff says hospitals isolate flu patients in private rooms. They’re up to 26 cases now. At Newark’s University Hospital, doctors say the Type A flu is particularly virulent.

“We’ve also had patients in the ICU for days and days with influenza, at this point, said Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “It seems to be a bit more aggressive than we’ve seen in the past few years,”

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One child has died of flu already in New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Department of Health, which has logged almost 3,200 tested flu cases so far this season, about double last year’s number. It’s the tip of the iceberg.

“Because how many people don’t even go to the doctor?” asked Cennimo. “They sit home with the flu. Or they’re diagnosed clinically and not sent formally for testing to a lab. We’re seeing a lot of influenza right now.”

The hyperactive flu season is also contributing to a critical blood shortage, according to the Red Cross.

“If you have the flu, you can’t donate. If you have any kind of cold, you can’t donate,” said American Red Cross Communications Director Alana Mauger. “Between blood drives being canceled because of the weather and people not being able to donate at levels they normally would because of flu, it’s kind of a double whammy.”

Doctors do urge people to get a flu shot, even at this late date. Even though it’s only about 30 percent effective against the Type A strain, it helps.

“Certainly, I would’ve wanted to have had a flu shot already because it does take a little time to gain effect. But we just said, cases are still increasing, so there is the potential to protect yourself,” said Cennimo.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are restricting visitors, especially kids, to help control the spread of flu. And if you get the flu, get Tamiflu medication from your doctor.

 “You don’t have to go to the ER, you don’t have to go to the lab, you don’t have to get tested, but your doctor should be able to tell you, ‘It sounds like flu. It’s flu. I’m going to give you Tamiflu.’ Don’t go visit in hospitals. Stay home, stay home, stay home.” said Boruchoff.

If you’re wondering how long this could go on, there’s bad news: the flu can run all the way into May.