Flu Season Brings Increased Visits to UPMC Emergency Departments

By: Rick Pietzak

513419659UPMC hospital Emergency departments (ED)  have seen an increase in visits from patients with flu or flu-like illnesses over the past month, consistent with observations seen around the  United States.

At UPMC Presbyterian ED in Pittsburgh, hospital staff are currently seeing about 8-10 patients each day coming in with flu symptoms, such as fevers, coughing and body aches.

“We are seeing about 30 to 40 percent more than this time last year and similar to the peaks in previous years, which happened in late January or February,” said Donald M. Yealy, M.D., chair of emergency medicine at UPMC. 

UPMC Altoona saw an increase around Christmas that continued into the new year, with a total of documented 26 flu cases in the first week of 2015.

“Most of the patients who have tested positive did not get the flu shot.  Some patients have the misconception that the flu vaccine did not work this year. It may not prevent every strain, but it is still very effective and the best prevention for the flu,” said Matthew Bouchard, M.D., chair of emergency medicine at UPMC Altoona.

UPMC Hamot in Erie had 47 patients with flu-like illness come to the emergency department in one day but levels have returned to a range comparable to the rest of the region with three positive flu cases and four pending as of Wednesday.

“We are seeing a lot of people with influenza-like symptoms,” said Ferdinando Mirarchi, D.O., UPMC Hamot’s medical director of emergency medicine. “That includes fever, chills, cough, sore throat and body aches. Some test out to be flu, but there are other viruses out there as well.”

The flu season will likely continue for a few months but for most people, it will be more of a nuisance than a major health problem.

“The vast majority of patients recover on their own and will not need a doctor when they have the flu,” said Dr. Yealy, who recommended a common sense approach to help prevent the spread of the contagious virus. “Wash your hands, whether you are sick or not, and cover any cough. These remain the best methods of prevention against spreading or acquiring the flu and many infections. If you are feeling sick, stay home from work or school.”

Formal flu testing is usually not required, and antiviral medicines offer only a modest benefit and only if given very early (inside 2 days of onset.) If flu symptoms persist and start getting worse instead of better after the first three days, contact your doctor,  visit one of the UPMC Urgent Care centers or try an eVisit—an electronic doctor’s visit–on  UPMC Anywhere Care. An ED visit is needed for only for those with profound symptoms, in very young or old, or with other medical problems.