Flu impacting patients, hospitals, urgent care clinics in D.C. area


The flu: it’s having an impact, from emergency rooms, to urgent care clinics, and doctors’ offices.

“We’re doing lots of hand sanitizer,” said Deb Bowers, a mother of two from Arlington. “I keep telling them to wash their hands every time they get in the house. ‘Wash your hands’ is my constant refrain.”

Many medical facilities are dealing with a new "post-flu" normal.

Every surface is disinfected, including seats and reception desks in waiting rooms.

Many doctors are offering their patients sanitary facemasks.

“We’re seeing more flu,” said Taryn Overnan, the director of the Emergency Department at Virginia Hospital Center. “We’ve definitely hit our peak in the flu season; more patients of all ages with flu-like symptoms.”

At Capital Area Pediatrics in Falls Church, staffers are seeing up to 100 patients a day.

ABC7 asked a question likely a lot of parents are thinking about: What’s the difference between the common cold and the flu?

“Most of the time, influenza presents with a higher fever,” pediatrician Hanita Oh-Tan said. “Often 102 degrees or higher. And the kid looks a little more ill. Often they're very tired, lethargic, body aches, while the common cold often just has the runny nose, cough and a lower fever.”

Oh-Tan says if your child is under two, and has asthma, cystic fibrosis, or diabetes, they are at a higher risk of being sicker. She recommends parents of those youngsters should call if they have questions, and should come in sooner rather than later.

Bowers, like many parents, worries about the flu cases that have quickly turned fatal.

On Sunday, Kevin Baynes Jr., a 7-year-old boy from Virginia, died of what’s believed to be an aggressive strain of the flu.

He came home sick from school on Friday.

On Sunday morning, family members called 911, after Kevin appeared to be unresponsive and not breathing.

He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

“It's horrible to think that you can be feeling that you have just a regular cold or illness, and suddenly, it gets to that extreme,” Bowers said. “So that’s scary.”

At the Patient First urgent care in Alexandria, medical workers are taking precautions.

Some staffers wear masks, or keep them handy.

A spokesperson says flu-related illnesses account for up to 20 percent of patient visits, compared to 7 percent last year.

She says wait times vary, but that they can last as long as an hour.

Virginia Hospital Center isn’t disclosing any patient numbers, but staff there are also seeing an uptick in flu cases.

“We're still able to flow our emergency department and move patients through the system,” Overnan said. “But we are seeing an increase in admissions due to flu, and just generally seeing more patients coming in with influenza-like illnesses.”

In some Northern Virginia school districts, administrators are asking parents to take precautions.

Prince William County school officials are recommending avoiding contact with those infected by the flu; frequent hand washings; and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, including toys and other shared items.

The district is also asking parents to keep students home when they are sick and keep them out of school until they are fever-free for a full 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

“Body aches, fever, shortness of breath, and overall, not feeling well” are symptoms patients are reporting, Overnan said before adding, “We are seeing the curve go this way. So it’s not going down, it’s going up."

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