Flu causes spike in ER visits

    The swine flu pandemic has caused an unprecedented surge in emergency room visits at hospitals in Philadelphia. But it’s not because patients need emergency care.

    The swine flu pandemic has caused an unprecedented surge in emergency room visits at hospitals in Philadelphia. But it’s not because patients need emergency care.
    (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewbain/ / CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Listen:

    [audio:091028kgflu.mp3]

    Emergency rooms are seeing a spike in visits from people with swine flu symptoms. Earlier this week the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia saw more than 500 patients in one day — double its usual number of visits.

    But nearly all of those patients didn’t need to come to the hospital. That’s what Richard Scarfone told Philadelphia City Council today at a briefing on the pandemic.

    Scarfone: Families are coming to the ED in the numbers I’ve described, they’re waiting a very long time, and at the end of that visit they’re being told what I’m telling you right now: this can be managed with tylenol or motrin, fluids and rest.

    Marla Gold is the dean of public health at Drexel University. She says 95% of visits to the hospital for flu are not serious. But fear and confusion bring people there.

    Gold: Emergency rooms for some are the only source of medical care. So when someone doesn’t feel well and has sometimes limited understanding of what’s going on with the epidemic and they’re worried, there is not a physician where they can pick up the phone and call on the telephone and get information and know not to come in to the office.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site offers guidance for when flu symptoms warrant a trip to the ER.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.