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Many L.A.-area hospitals see flu cases leveling off

The unpredictable H1N1 strain may have peaked, and some credit vaccinations.

November 21, 2009|By Rong-Gong Lin II
  • Dr. Ralph Salimpour, left, helped by medical assistant Luis Escobar, administers the H1N1 vaccine to Raymond De Jesus, 14 months, who is held by his mother, Josefina.
Dr. Ralph Salimpour, left, helped by medical assistant Luis Escobar, administers… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Hospital officials report that the numbers of patients with H1N1 flu appear to be leveling off at many Los Angeles area hospitals, easing wait times at crowded emergency rooms less than a week before Thanksgiving.

"We're seeing a tail off," said Rob Fuller, executive vice president at Downey Regional Medical Center. "The debate is whether this is the end of Round 1, or is there going to be another wave?"

Although health officials cautioned that the course of the flu pandemic remains unpredictable, many said they were hopeful.

"I think we peaked 10 days ago, and we're holding our breath," Dr. Gail Carruthers, director of the pediatric emergency department at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children's Hospital, said Thursday.

Although the vaccine supply remains below what public health officials had anticipated, some said the slowdown in new cases may be tied to vaccination efforts.

"We think it's because more and more people in our area are getting the vaccine," said Missy Blackstock, nurse manager at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center's emergency room.

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood and White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights also reported that new H1N1 flu cases had leveled off. Other facilities, however, including Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, said they continued to see increased patient loads.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in the South Bay said flu patients have remained at manageable levels. Flu patients at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank have remained steady in the last two months.

State officials warned this week that H1N1 remains a serious problem throughout the state, with hundreds of people hospitalized each week and the number of deaths attributed to the strain in the double digits.

As a result, despite the leveling off in additional flu hospitalizations, hospitals are still coping with emergency rooms that are more crowded than normal for this time of year. The traditional flu season usually does not begin until December.

At Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Sunset Boulevard, where flu cases have stabilized, emergency room traffic is about 15% to 20% higher than normal for this time of year, said Dr. Nagi Sous, head of the emergency department.

Dr. Brandon Lew, who works at Huntington, said one cause for crowding is that when one family member is ill with the flu, the family may ask to be evaluated. He said only patients with a true medical complaint should ask to be seen.

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