A severe influenza outbreak in California is creating panic as the death toll rises and hundreds are sickened statewide.
According to the Los Angeles Times, health department officials say 27 people younger than 65 have died of the flu in California since October. Only 3 people died from the flu at the same time last year.
Doctors say a statewide shortage of flu medicine and packed emergency rooms led to a general sense of panic among all residents, including singer Kelly Rowland, pictured above right, who wore a surgical mask to her doctor's office on Thursday.
The emergency room at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica was packed with more than 200 patients. UCLA ER doctors usually see about 140 patients a day, said the ER’s medical director, Dr. Wally Ghurabi.
“The Northridge earthquake was the last time we saw over 200 patients,” Ghurabi told the LA Times.
Flu cases in California have surged 40% in 2017-18, far outpacing flu cases in 2016-17, according to The Times.
The hospitals are so packed with flu cases that ambulances are forced to wait in line to drop off patients at the ER.
“The ambulances have to wait … and if they’re waiting there, they can’t be out on calls,” said Jose Arballo Jr., spokesman for the Riverside County Department of Public Health.
Most of the cases are caused by the particularly dangerous H3N2 strain of virus. “It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County’s interim health officer.
In Los Angeles County, 33 people have died of the flu this season and only a handful were under 65, Gunzenhauser told The Times.
“I don’t remember the last time I was this sick,” said Caroline Bringenberg, 25, of Silver Lake. She opted for over-the-counter medicines ibuprofen and DayQuil when she learned every CVS pharmacy in her area was out of prescription Tamiflu.
CVS spokeswoman Amy Lanctot told The Times that increased demand for Tamiflu in California led to a severe statewide shortage.
“They’re all on back order right now,” said Talia Dimaio, a pharmacy clerk at Rancho Park Compounding Pharmacy in West L.A. “We can’t get it.”
Bob Purcell, spokesman for the San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company Genentech, which makes Tamiflu, said there isn't a nationwide shortage of Tamiflu, suggesting that a sudden surge in demand for Tamiflu led to the shortages in California.
Tamiflu treats the symptoms of the flu and is often prescribed for prevention of the flu in babies and the elderly. There is no cure for the flu virus.
Photos by LESE / BACKGRID