Busiest Flu Season in a Decade, Says USC-VHH Official

Like hospitals across the nation, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital has seen a sharp increase in patients experiencing flu this season.

Dr. Armand Dorian said he and his colleagues at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital are taxed and exhausted after treating about 30% more flu cases this season than they normally do. The brutal flu season affecting the nation hasn’t spared La Cañada Flintridge, said Dorian, who noted the local hospital has seen more patients with flu-related symptoms this year than during any other winter in the past decade.
“But it’s why we’re here,” said Dorian, the associate chief medical officer at USC-VHH. “To take care of our friends and family and the community.”
Dorian said the H3N2 virus that’s wreaking havoc locally is in line with what’s happening across the county — and the country.
“You can’t send people home who are not ready, so we’ve been figuring out ways of absorbing this high influx of people; it’s one of the things we train for in disasters,” said Dorian, who said he sensed a little bit of a lull over the weekend, which makes him hopeful for an early end to this deadly flu season.
According to state health officials, during a single week this January, the flu killed 32 people younger than 65 statewide, bringing the total to 74 since October.
“Normally, flu is transmitted by coughing or saliva on a cup you grab,” Dorian said. “Now some studies are showing that even your breath has enough water vapor that if you’re near enough to someone who breathes on you, you could contract it.”
In addition to the sheer number of people who are infected and seeking medical attention, the H3N2 virus seems to cause more severe symptoms, including a higher fever, Dorian said.
Some Southern California hospitals have resorted to pitching tents in their parking lots to treat the high number of cases, but Dorian said that USC-VHH has been able to adjust to the influx by increasing staffing and opening areas that aren’t normally in use inside the building.
But he said the surge in patients reporting to the emergency room for treatment is, in a sense, a good thing.
“The public is aware, ‘Oh, wow, this seems to be a bad one,’” he said. “So people are more attuned to it this year. We’d rather have more people come in than waiting and it being too late. Time of delivery of care is the most important factor in all of medicine: The quicker you pull that weed, the better. The longer it festers, the harder it is to get rid of.”
And the more people who are treated, it reduces the potential for others in the community to get sick, Dorian said.
Alison Perez brought her 11-year-old son, Sean, to the USC-VHH emergency room twice in the past month. She said during the first visit, when he was diagnosed with flu, he had a 103-degree temperature.
“Then, when I got home and started reading the Internet, I saw a story about a 10-year-old boy who died in New York,” she said. “So every time my son would cough, he would hurt. He said it was like his chest was caving in, so I panicked and brought him back to the ER.”
There, she was encouraged — his 99.7 fever meant he was improving — and advised to stop giving him cough suppressant so his body could work to expel what was in his lungs. A doctor prescribed water and Gatorade and suggested Sean wear a mask at home to keep from infecting others, including his grandmother who is fighting cancer.
Dorian said he recommends that anyone who hasn’t yet, to get a flu shot. Although the one currently being administered is not designed to fight H3N2, estimated to be only about 30% effective, it still can help — “and would you prefer only 30% or 40% effective or zero?” he asked.
“How can we turn this negative into a positive,” Dorian asked. “I think it brings back the awareness of how important the flu shot is. It’s one of only a few things you can do.”
Otherwise, Dorian said, it’s important to frequently keep your hands clean and disinfected, suggesting people look into new lines of long-lasting, alcohol-free hand sanitizers such as Water Journey or Protect-8, products that are designed to kill germs for hours at a time, he said.
“It kills [germs] and adds a thin layer of film that keeps killing them for eight hours,” Dorian said. “That’s huge. Now, if you put it in the hands of everybody in your office, that’s like a vaccination. You’re really decreasing the chance of spreading something.”

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