By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
As we all continue to wage war against winter, armed with shovels, salt and layers of clothing, a large number of us are losing the battle with the flu, and it’s starting to put a strain on our local hospitals.
Dr. Tony Stone, the chief of staff for Lakeridge Health, says local hospitals are consistently operating at capacity with many people waiting for beds, despite the fact that hospitals have added more beds where possible.
“We open up extra beds on most of our existing medical in-patient units and we open up extra dedicated units as well,” Stone tells The Oshawa Express. “In a system as large as ours where there are well over 800 beds, you can imagine there is a lot of flow and a lot of movement, but right now we’re running at capacity. The extra space we’ve opened is running at capacity and what I would say is overall, our teams are doing a great job providing care, everybody is getting what they need, but yes it is absolutely busy.”
As the hospitals push through the peak of flu season, which typically happens around mid-to-late January, Stone says they are looking for creative solutions to provide the care that people need.
“We essentially find ways to make appropriate space for folks and make sure that we have our team of caregivers available to them,” he says. “It still does get congested in the ERs just because of the sheer volume, but overall I think Lakeridge is doing a good job across the system.”
Nationwide, expert reports claim that a predominant strain of Influenza A, or H3N2, a particularly nasty form of the virus compared to its milder cousin Influenza B, is responsible for the high hospitalizations this flu season. According to numbers from the Public Health Agency of Canada, there have been 15,572 lab-confirmed cases of the flu as of Jan. 6.
With that said, Stone says the surge in hospital admissions due to the flu in 2018 is fairly typical of this time of year. So far, Lakeridge has seen its typical heavy influx in late November and early January, and numbers have remained fairly high before they are expected to taper off in the coming weeks.
“That’s a pattern that’s quite repetitive, it does fluctuate a wee bit, but that’s fairly consistent. So, every year at this time…everyone is reporting high amounts of influenza. It impacts the hospital because what we end up dealing with is a busier ER with people presenting with their symptoms, and a higher in-patient volume because of people having complications from influenza that require hospitalization.”
According to numbers from the Durham Region Health Department, there have been approximately 173 confirmed cases of the flu in Durham Region since November 2017. However, this number is actually less than the same time period last year, which saw 245 confirmed cases.
However, for Stone, these numbers can be fairly unreliable at providing the true picture of those battling influenza, as many may not visit a doctor when they come down with symptoms.
In terms of what to do if you think you’re coming down with the flu, Stone says it really depends on the individual as to what their course of action might be, and the process may not always involve the emergency room.
“If the symptoms are mild to moderate, the best thing to do is to stay home, get plenty of rest and fluids. If symptoms are more severe and people are feeling unwell or they’re concerned about their symptoms, then often it would be very reasonable to see your family physician or go to a walk-in clinic,” he explains.
However, he makes it clear that if people are feeling unwell, and they believe their symptoms to be severe, they shouldn’t shy away from visiting the hospital.
“We want to make sure that they know they ought to come here. The reason we’re here is that if you get severe symptoms…then yes, come here and we will evaluate you,” he says. “There’s individual judgement involved in terms of how you determine your own severity.”
Stone also urges that washing your hands and wearing a mask can be key factors in helping to prevent your exposure to the virus. He also notes it’s not too late to get the flu shot.