Flu cases skyrocket, putting long-term care facilities on alert

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H1N1, seasonal flu on the decline--for now
H1N1, seasonal flu on the decline--for now

With cases of the flu reaching near-epidemic levels in many parts of the country, long-term care operators are on especially high alert.

Between Monday night and Tuesday morning, hospitals throughout the Chicago area, for example, were on bypass status, rerouting ambulances because their emergency rooms were at capacity, due largely to a high number of flu patients. More than 500 people in New York City are seeking emergency room treatment for the flu each day, ABC News reported. And it's not just the country's big cities that are seeing cases skyrocket.

For example, long-term care facilities and hospitals in Mercer County, VA, reported a surge in flu patients this week, according to local reports. A public health nurse with the county's health department said the department had logged more than 450 cases of the flu as of Tuesday, up from about 350 cases a week earlier. The health department requested that anyone with flu symptoms stay away from hospitals and long-term care facilities.

In the last week of December, pneumonia and influenza accounted for 7% of all deaths reported in the CDC's 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System. The threshold for epidemic status is 7.1%.

Long-term care facilities are especially at risk during flu outbreaks. Individuals older than 65 account for an estimated 60% of flu-related hospitalizations and 90% of deaths caused by the seasonal flu annually.

Flu season typically peaks in January or February, but the 2012-2013 season began earlier than any season since 2003-2004, according to Tom Skinner, senior public affairs officer for the CDC. The 2003-2004 season was “early and severe,” and this year could follow a similar trajectory, Skinner said in a December call with reporters.

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