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Increase of flu cases reported in east metro

Shereda Jefferies waits patiently Thursday for her prescriptions for antibiotics and cough syrup to be filled at a pharmacy in Conyers. Jefferies said she has had flu-like symptoms since Christmas, in addition to strep throat and an ear infection. Health care workers in the east metro area say they have seen an increase in the number of flu cases in the past couple of weeks. One health official described the intensity level for flu statewide as "high and widespread." -- Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

Shereda Jefferies waits patiently Thursday for her prescriptions for antibiotics and cough syrup to be filled at a pharmacy in Conyers. Jefferies said she has had flu-like symptoms since Christmas, in addition to strep throat and an ear infection. Health care workers in the east metro area say they have seen an increase in the number of flu cases in the past couple of weeks. One health official described the intensity level for flu statewide as "high and widespread." -- Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

CONYERS -- A healthy dose of patience might be the prescription for those seeking medical care for flu symptoms.

Health care workers in the east metro area are reporting a significant increase in the number of people seeking treatment for the flu and flu-like symptoms, which translates into longer wait times for patients.

Karen Young, RN, director of the Emergency Department at Rockdale Medical Center, said the number of patients with flu symptoms has spiked over the past couple of weeks, and there has been an increase in the number of patients admitted to the hospital through the ER, though Young said not all of that increase is flu-related. The ER typically admits about 18 patients per day through the ER, Young said; recently that number has increased to 25 or 30 per day. In addition, the number of patients seen in the ER has increased from a daily average in the 120s to more than 160, she said.

"Whether it's the emergency room or urgent care centers or primary care centers, they are just as slammed as we are," Young said.

"When the volume goes up, you are going to expect longer wait times," she added.

Young said the ER has brought in extra staff to help meet the needs of patients, and the nursing staff has risen to the challenge.

"We do whatever we can to see as many people as possible," she said. "We are working very hard; the nursing staff is doing a very, very good job."

Kerri Glover, director of marketing and business development for Rockdale Medical Center, said the hospital-owned Georgia Primary and Urgent Care Center also has seen an increase in flu activity.

"They've been swamped with patients exhibiting flu symptoms and they've had more positive tests than usual," she said.

Likewise Newton Medical Center has been kept busy with patients complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Linda Moseley-Komich, director of marketing and business development for NMC, said that of the 4,388 patients seen in the emergency room in December, 244, or 5 percent, were diagnosed with the influenza virus.

Karen Shields, public information officer for the East Metro Health District, which includes Rockdale, Newton and Gwinnett counties, said flu activity is trending up in the east metro area and statewide.

"Currently the intensity level for the flu in Georgia is high and widespread," said Shields. "One of the best ways to prevent the flu is to receive a flu shot. Flu shots are available at all Health Department locations."

Shields said there are other "everyday preventative actions" to stop the spread of flu such as: "wash your hands often with soap and water; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough and then throw it away; avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes, since germs can pass this way; and avoid close contact with sick people. Most importantly, if you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone to avoid spreading the flu to others."

For those who already have the flu, Young said it's important to stay hydrated and take Tylenol or Motrin as directed for fever. Primary symptoms being reported with the flu are cough, fever, body aches, and in some cases runny nose, she said.