Nightly News   |  January 08, 2013

Hospitals struggle, overburdened with flu patients

Even though it’s still early in the flu season, hospitals around the country are stretching their resources to face an onslaught of patients sick with the flu. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> good evening. when we talk about flu season this year, getting off to a galloping and virulent start this is a live picture of he will high, pennsylvania, where they have a tent set out back to treat the overflow of patients. for health care professionals it means more patients showing up in hospitals than they can treat in some cases and remember, that's among those so sick with the flu, they require hospitalization. the flu is now widespread in 41 of our 50 states . it is all where we begin tonight with our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman . nancy, good evening.

>> good evening, brian. this is the worst flu season we've seen in more than a decade. it has the cdc concerned and tonight, cities across the country and their hospitals are feeling the strain, and we haven't even reached the 50 yard line of flu season . emergency departments have become ground zero in the fight against the flu. at new york st. barnabus hospital the hallways are packed with patients. what's the status today?

>> right now compared to last year at this time we've seen three times as many flu patients as we've seen all of last year.

>> reporter: more than 50 cases a day of flu-like symptoms. is it fair to say you are overwhelmed?

>> i'd say yes we're at overflow right now, we definitely are, we're very busy.

>> reporter: patients like laurnts lawrence johansson.

>> yesterday morning, fever, feeling terrible.

>> reporter: at brigham and women's hospital, 50 more already this year than all of last year. dr. pazner.

>> patients feel like they're run over by a bus, body aches, joint aches , feverish, oftentimes have sweats.

>> reporter: in chicago hospitals are so overwhelmed with patients several have closed their emergency departments diverting ambulances to other facilities. at a hospital in allentown, pennsylvania, they're dealing with the onslaught of patients by triageing them in a tent in the parking lot. this influenza virus can tenacious. how can you avoid the flu? there are some simple precautions. wash your hands frequently, 15 to 30 seconds at a time, keep your hands away from your eyes and nose. you touch your face more than 2,000 times a day and that's the ease ye place for the virus to latch on.

>> so far i don't think it's peaked yet. it's still rising.

>> reporter: if you think you're at risk, the answer might be a click away. on 20,000 volunteers are compiling reports so you can check how severe the outbreak is in your zip code , there's a facebook that checks status words for cough and disease. cdc has data that tracks state by state. if you think you have the calflu, call your primary doctor immediately. don't go immediately to the emergency room . the hallmark remains prevention and for almost everyone out there, that's a flu shot . we undervalue prevention in this country, brian. i think we have to drive home the fact this is a virus that can put you in the icu within 48 hours . this is not a season to fiddle around with.

>> the flu shot is a good one this year.

>> it's good, a perfect match and available.

>> dr. nancy snyderman starting us