On Thursday, Jan. 4, the Riverside City Council held a press conference discussing the influenza (flu) epidemic that has affected a significant amount of the city’s population. The wave of influenza has become a recent worry particularly in California where there have been 27 flu-related deaths. Riverside has not been unscathed. In Riverside County, emergency room (ER) ambulance transports increased 31.1 percent from the average of 2,604 to 3,415 incidents in the past week. ER wait time has increased and fire departments have experienced an increase in their workload.
This flu season has presented unique challenges particularly because of the prevalence of the influenza A subtype H3N2 strain. The flu vaccination has not proven as effective in combating this strain due to the strain’s built up immunity. While the usual flu can display uncomplicated symptoms including tiredness, a cough, sore throat or fever, symptoms of H3N2 include chest pains, shortness of breath, blurred vision, extreme weakness and inability to eat or drink.
“In general people should worry about influenza viruses,” stated Rong Hai, a UCR assistant professor who specializes in viral molecular pathology, virus host interactions and vaccine development. “The flu can change on its surface, so by changing it means it can get our pre-existing immunity against the viruses. When this happens, it will need potentially high contaminate and mobility. “
Dr. Steven Kim, medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine of Riverside Community Hospital, recommends that “If they (flu victims) have those (non-complicated) symptoms, but overall they’re doing okay, they don’t have to come to the ER.” Instead, he advised they stay home, rest and drink plenty of liquids and only visit the ER if one displays the complicated symptoms.
During this season, the fire department, the first responders to a 911 request for assistance, have seen a 400 percent spike in calls, many of them involving cases of the flu. However, he noted a majority of patients admitted to the ER have mostly displayed less severe flu symptoms.
Bruce Vanderhorst, City of Riverside Fire Department battalion chief and public information officer, is wary of the increase in both wait times and his department’s workload. “There are already so many patients in the hospitals,” said Vanderhorst, “every bed is filled in the emergency room.”
Kenneth Han, chief physician of UCR Student Health Services, sent a school-wide email recommending students, staff and faculty “take all precautionary steps including receiving flu vaccine in addition to washing hands often, covering coughs and sneezes with your sleeve or tissue, and stay home when you are sick.” On Friday, Jan. 12 between 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, the UCR Health offered flu shots for the UCR community outside HUB 302. Han was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.
The flu season will continue until the end of winter. In the meantime, it is recommended to receive the flu shot, which would protect one from multiple versions of the flu. Those at a higher risk are children under the age of 2, elderly people who live in nursing homes, people who have heart problems or pneumonia and those with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these groups should be extra diligent in seeking medical symptoms and taking care of themselves against the flu.