DC Area Flu Cases at 'Intense' Level, Vaccines Hard to Find
Inova hospitals say flu arrived sooner, is more widespread, causing spike in number of patients visiting emergency rooms.
Flu activity in the District is "intense," according to Google flu trends, and local pharmacies have seen their supplies dwindle in recent days.
While the Centers for Disease Control shows DC, Maryland and Virginia among the states seeing a spike in flu cases, flu is not a reportable disease, so hard numbers are difficult to come by. The CDC ranks both Maryland and Virginia as having widespread flu cases. DC cases are "local" meaning there have been increases in outbreaks or cases of influenza in a single region of the District.
Inova, the largest hospital system in Northern Virginia, is seeing a spike in the number of flu patients visiting their emergency rooms, a spokesman said.
"We, like everyone else in the Metro region, have experienced an uptick over the past four weeks in both outpatient visits to our EDs [emergency rooms] as well as in-patient placements for those with flu-related complications," said Tony Raker, public relations director for Inova Hospitals in Northern Virginia.
Members of the Inova hospital staff are advising patients to contact their primary care physicians for consultation, Raker said. If someone's doctor is unavailable, a flu patient should seek out an urgent care or CVS Minute Clinic to save costs associated with a trip to the emergency room, he said.
"Coming to the ED [emergency room] is expensive only to be told in most cases what to obtain over the counter to ease symptoms," he noted.
Flu vaccine hard to find in Georgetown, widely available in DC region
Though most Georgetown-area pharmacies are out of the vaccine or running low on supplies, it is still widely available in the metropolitan region. People can get vaccinated at pharmacies and doctors’ offices; just call ahead.
The Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown still had a limited supply of flu shots as of Friday afternoon. A pharmacist there said she has seen a huge demand in just the last few days.
Both the Georgetown CVS on Wisconsin Avenue and the Glover Park CVS are out of vaccines. A pharmacist at the Glover Park location told Patch she hopes they will receive a new supply late next week.
The CVS on MacArthur Boulevard told Patch they only have the high-doses vaccine, which is offered only to people age 65 and older.
"We encourage everyone six months and older to receive an annual flu vaccine because it is the best protection against the flu," Glen Barbour, public safety information officer for Fairfax County, said.
CVS offers a "flu shot locator" here, though the locator currently lists several locations that are out of the vaccine. Your best bet is to call before you try to get your shot.
Although Raker at Inova recommends heading to a clinic or pharmacy instead of an expensive trip to the ER, he noted that there are three specific patient categories who should seek immediate physician care, if needed:
1) children under 5
2) those 65 or older
3) women who are pregnant.
All others should be watching for dehydration, usually as a result of excessive vomiting – and should also seek immediate medical attention, he said.
Could something like what's happening in Boston — where there are 700 confirmed cases and local officials are declaring a public health emergency — happen here? If it did, Inova would be ready, Raker said.
"As to the Boston situation, our five hospitals have all positioned both physically and from a staffing perspective to avoid such a scenario," Raker said. "We are offering masks for those coughing who are coming in to our hospitals, but that is voluntary. We have adjusted working hours to cover additional care requirements – not unlike an inclement weather situation."
Why this season's flu seems worse than others
"It seems that flu season arrived about one month sooner than in recent years and that flu activity in our area became widespread sooner in the than it usually does," Barbour said. "Typically, we do eventually see widespread flu activity each year. I cannot say whether this year’s flu is 'worse' than others, but I can say that we have seen an increase in the number of people showing up at hospitals with flu-like symptoms."
Read more about this year's flu season.