As the US experiences one of the worst flu seasons in history, crowded and under-staffed hospitals have begun to turn patients away.
Forty-nine states reported either regional or widespread flu activity last week, excluding Delaware. There have been 70 deaths across the US, according to the CDC.
Thirteen Allina Health hospitals in Minnesota implemented patient restrictions today giving nurses the authority to ask ill visitors to go home if their symptoms are not dire and especially if they are under five years old to prevent the spread of disease.
Of the 870 patients that tested positive for the flu at Allina Health hospitals this season, 120 were admitted and the restrictions will stay in place until the flu is no longer widespread.
The flu is now widespread in 36 states, and highly active in 21 of those (shown here in red), according to the latest figures from the CDC released last week
Hospitals have been overwhelmed with the influx of infected patients seeing an average of 10 patients a day that are admitted for flu-symptoms.
Dr Frank Rhame, an infection disease doctor with Allina Health told CBS Minnesota: ‘We say stay at home if you can.’
He added that doctors will try to keep children under five years old out of the hospital because they may not show signs of the flu but could be highly infectious.
Signs are posted throughout Allina Health’s hospitals and clinics that remind patients to wash their hands and cover their cough with boxes of face masks and hand sanitizer at each entrance.
Flu season officially begins in October but this year’s particularly dangerous strain, H3N2, has come relatively early and the season has not reached its peak yet.
The same strain was primarily responsible for sickening more than 1,000 people in Australia, where health officials estimated that vaccines only prevented some 10 percent of strains.
In light of panic over reports of the vaccine’s effectiveness, the CDC reported that it expects the American vaccine to be 32 percent effective against the H3N2 virus, but this week saw the flu become highly active in 21 states.
An estimated 9.2 million Americans have gotten sick with the flu each year since 2010.
Of those, the CDC estimates that as many as 56,000 have died from the viral infection in a given recent year.
H3N2 has been responsible for some of the worst flu seasons in the US in recent years, including the 2006-2007, 2012-2013, and 2014-2015 bouts.
As of last week, there was ‘high activity’ of the flu – the highest prevalence ranking – in nearly half of the US.
Texas is among the 21 states now inundated with the virus, and H3N2 has accounted for between 66 and 75 percent of positive flu tests reported to its health department.
‘As far as past seasons where H3N2 has been predominant, there have been more hospitalizations and complications with it,’ said Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Lara Anton.
‘If it continues to be the predominant type, we could expect that.’
So far, 512 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported to the CDC this year.
‘There was a health alert on Wednesday letting providers know that they should be highly suspicious of anyone with flu-like symptoms and start treating them with antivirals,’ Anton said.
The CDC has recommended three main antivirals: oseltamivir (sold under the brand name Tamiful,) zanamivir (Relenza), and peramivir, all of which the CDC says contain a strain of H3N2 which should be effective against this year’s version.
The nasal spray, however, is not thought to be a worthwhile preventative measure against this flu.
‘There is not much we can do on a state level,’ said Anton, ‘it’s an every-year epidemic.’
All anyone can do to protect themselves against this years fierce flu is to get vaccinated, cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands, get tested early, and stay home if they are sick.
Flu season typically peaks anywhere between December and March, according to the CDC.
‘We don’t know if this is the peak, but we kind of don’t think it is,’ Anton said.
‘We think it’s tracking upward, and it’s on the earlier side,’ she added.