Saying its emergency room is stretched to capacity because of the state’s flu epidemic, PeaceHealth is asking people with mild flu symptoms to see their doctor or go to a drop-in clinic.
“Please leave the ER for patients with severe flu symptoms,” said Hilary Andrade, spokeswoman for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
Like the rest of Washington state, Whatcom County has been hit hard by the flu, which came about a month early.
The Bellingham hospital has seen a significant increase in people sickened by the flu since officially declaring flu season Dec. 21, PeaceHealth officials said.
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As of Monday, more than 150 ER patients had tested positive for the flu.
A large influx of flu patients may cause long delays for emergency patient care, PeaceHealth said, and cause those who are not sick with the flu to catch it.
Twenty-four people in the state have died from the flu as of Dec. 31, according to the latest available information. None of those deaths was in Whatcom County.
That is compared to eight deaths for the same period the previous flu season and 16 deaths during the same time in 2014-15.
The last time the flu hit hard was in 2014-15, when a similar strain also made people sicker and killed 157 people before the season was done.
Although there has been a spike in cases, more people likely will get sick because the flu hasn’t peaked.
Flu symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and diarrhea and vomiting.
People experiencing mild cases of those symptoms, who don’t have high risk of flu complications, should contact their doctor’s office for advice.
Those with serious symptoms should go to the ER.
Such symptoms include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, as well as symptoms that improve but return with increased fever and coughing.
Public health officials have declared an epidemic because the percentage of positive flu tests and people who went to the emergency room with flulike illness was above a 5-year average.
Flu levels reach epidemic levels in Washington state most seasons, but a high number of cases have occurred early this year.
“It’s a significant season already,” said Julie Graham, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Health.
It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine to protect yourself and others around you who are vulnerable, health officials said. It takes about two weeks after vaccination to reach full strength.
The vaccine is made up of the three or four strains that health officials expect to be the most common during the season. The vaccine is updated each year because flu viruses change.
More on the flu is online at cdc.gov/flu.