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Flu patients flood UMC, Tucson ERs

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 2, 1999
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Matt Heistand
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Terence Valenzuela M.D., attending physician at the UMC emergency room, talks to a Wildcat reporter last Thursday afternoon. UMC has reported an increase of about 200 patients a day, up from a about 140 because of this year's flu season.

The University Medical Center has congestion.

The UMC emergency room has seen its share of the flu cases this month - including some sniffling UA students - and has increased treatment from 140 to 200 patients each day.

"Our big challenge is volume - it's record breaking," said Fran Bartholomeaux, a UMC clinical nurse educator.

She said a mild winter and an influx of east coast winter visitors have added to the number flu sufferers.

"It's been a very potent flu season," Bartholomeaux said. "Our bodies are more susceptible to the flu because of changes in the weather."

The symptoms of influenza, including fever, chills and a sore throat are sometimes ignored, she added.

"People don't realize they have to be in bed when it hits," Bartholomeaux said.

The illness is caused by influenza viruses which can become flu epidemics that last between four to eight weeks in a community.

This year's flu is a seven to 10 day illness, said Terence Valenzuela, UA professor of surgery and an attending physician in the UMC emergency room.

Valenzuela had a personal introduction to this year's epidemic while standing in the midst of influenza viruses flowing through UMC's air.

"I'm on day eight of my illness," Valenzuela said. "I got a flu shot and I feel fairly betrayed."

UA's Campus Health Service has injected 2,000 students and staff with flu shots this year.

Campus Health physician Harry McDermott said students should complement their flu shots by getting enough rest and eating balanced meals. Frequent hand-washing and using tissues for sneezing and coughing fits also helps flu prevention, McDermott said.

UMC's emergency room is quiet during the early mornings, but it livens up to a fever pitch in the late afternoons and evenings. Many come for treatment because their family physicians are swamped.

"It's an illness that has no cure, it just has to run it's course," Bartholomeaux said.

She recommends that Tucsonans get flu shots to protect themselves from the spreading virus. Although inoculations aren't fool-proof, they do protect patients from developing more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

Bartholomeaux said some Tucson-area hospitals have wait times reaching five hours, she said.

"We've done tremendous work to make our emergency room more efficient," Bartholomeaux said. "Our in and out time is two hours."

UMC has made changes in its nursing staff, equipment and the turn-around time in its labs and x-ray reports, she said.

The UMC administration has supported the efficiency change and quality improvement program for the last 18 months, Bartholomeaux said, adding that the hospital "operates in the sensitivity of its patients."

Irene Hsiao can be reached at Irene.Hsiao@wildcat.arizona.edu