Officials: avoid ER for flu

    The outbreak of H1N1 swine flu back in the spring caused a record volume of patients visiting emergency rooms in Philadelphia.

    The H1N1 swine flu outbreak last spring was one reason emergency rooms in Philadelphia had their busiest days on record. Now the flu has returned to the region.
    (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bitzcelt/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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    Public health officials say emergency rooms in Philadelphia had their busiest days on record earlier this year. Much of that was due to swine flu. Caroline Johnson is with the city’s public health department.

    Johnson: The number of visits that were associated with H1N1 were astronomical.

    Now, hospitals are urging sick residents with the flu to stay home instead of hitting the ER. The H1N1 swine flu is circulating through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Rick Hong is head of emergency medicine at Cooper University Hospital. He says swine flu symptoms have been relatively mild, and if people think they are infected they should call their doctors instead of going to the hospital.

    Hong: My concern at least for the patients is you’re waiting in a potentially enclosed space with other people who are sick with other illnesses. So we want to make sure we don’t spread the illness around or you get exposed to another type of illness.

    In addition, emergency departments may become overwhelmed by flu patients. Philadelphia’s public health department says that in June of this year, some hospitals ran out of masks due to the surge in patients with swine flu.

    Elizabeth Datner is the emergency department’s medical director at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

    Datner:
    The message is important for the people who need emergent care to go to the hospital and get emergent care. If they have a question about that, whether they should go, they should contact their primary care doctors.

    Hong:
    Now if you have a serious illness, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, feel confused, persistent vomiting, then you may need to see medical care more quickly.

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