The CDC recently announced that the United States is facing a flu epidemic in most of its states, a situation that was likely created by an unusually prevalent strain of the virus, which is not covered by the flu vaccine. As a result, hospitals, doctors offices and urgent care centers across the country are seeing overwhelming volumes of patients experiencing flu symptoms and complications. However, one urgent care facility in San Antonio has stated that the current flu season, combined with a number of people reporting allergy problems and colds, has created what one doctor called “a perfect storm”.
Urgent care centers have become an important part of the American healthcare industry over the last several years, offering treatment for a wide variety of non-life-threatening conditions, affordable co-pays and convenient hours. Typically, these medical walk in clinics also report shorter waiting times than a person would experience at an emergency room or doctors office. However, with the demand for medical care caused by flu season, even urgent care centers are reporting longer lines than usual.
This is especially true in San Antonio, where a late flu season struck right before the winter holidays, increasing the rate of infection as patients spent time with friends and families. To make matters worse, doctors report that strong northern winds blew a number of allergens into the area, which either masks symptoms until the flu worsens or only exacerbates the condition. Other sicknesses, like the common cold, are also adding to the number of patients. Accordingly, at least one urgent care center has hired new employees to help keep up with the demand.
This year’s flu season is believed to have been caused by the popularity of a specific strain of the virus, which the flu vaccine cannot protect patients against. Because of this, the flu vaccine is believed to only be 50% effective. However, doctors are still encouraging patients to get the vaccination, which will still protect against other strains. Doctors are also encouraging flu patients to go to urgent care centers or doctors offices instead of seeking emergency room care; this will hopefully decrease crowding and allow those with more serious injuries to be treated more quickly. If a patient reports difficulty breathing or other severe symptoms, however, they should be taken to a hospital immediately. Good references here.