A mid-south emergency room is so overrun with flu patients that it is slowing down their treatment of emergency patients.
The emergency room at Baptist Hospital in DeSoto County is seeing an 11-percent increase of ER patients compared to last flu season.
"For the first two weeks of January we've actually had more admissions than we did in the last flu season overall," says Debbie Stubblefield, Director of Nursing for Emergency Services at Baptist Hospital DeSoto County.
In one morning, Baptist Hospital in DeSoto County saw 11 patients with flu-like symptoms in just ten minutes. As this pattern continues through the day, it clogs up their emergency room and causes serious problems for patients.
"They're having to wait longer and even if they do not have the flu they're sitting with people who may have the flu, then the chance of a contamination are greater," says Stubblefield.
The only time a patient should go to the emergency room for the flu is if the symptoms are severe: Dehydration - vomiting, diarrhea, dry mouth, low veins – and a high fever (102) that cannot be controlled by everyday medicines. That's according to health professionals at Baptist DeSoto's ER.
"The emergency room is not a place to go if you're having fever, body aches, cough, runny nose…those kinds of flu-like symptoms, especially if you're healthy," says Alexis Johnson, Physician Assistant at Baptist DeSoto's Emergency Room.
Instead, those with flu-like symptoms – body aches, fever, runny nose, cough – should be going to a primary care physician or a minor medical clinic.
"I would even say call your doctor before you go to your doctor's office because it's a virus and there's not a lot that even a doctor can do because it's something your body is going to fight off on its own," says Johnson. Stubblefield says to let the doctor know your symptoms and they will guide you from there.
Johnson stresses the importance of regularly seeing a primary care physician at a doctor's office: They get to know your medical history and you can call them for illnesses, like the flu, so they can simply call in a prescription.
The Memphis Medical Society even addressed the issue of flu patients flooding emergency rooms, saying in part, "We urge the public to contact their primary care physician before going to the emergency department (ED). Your primary care physician can offer appropriate care and help patients in deciding whether or not they are in need of ED services. This will help keep the ED available for those sick enough to require hospitalization."
Stubblefield says flu season peaked this year in January compared to last year when it peaked in March. She says there are still a few months left in the flu season, adding that people need to continue washing their hands. Stubblefield says if someone already has the flu stay home so the virus is not spreading.
If you have not received your flu shot, you can find the closest facility where you can get one by typing in your zip code at this website.