In one of the worst flu outbreaks in years, Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Salisbury Township will open a separate emergency room Tuesday, Jan. 8 for patients experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The hospital has set up a mobile tent outside the ER to handle an additional influx of patients suffering from flu-like illness, it said in a news release issued Monday.
Patients who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should still report to the main ER entrance for triage, a hospital spokesman said.
St. Luke’s University Health Network's six emergency rooms is currently seeing about 20 patients a day with flu-like symptoms but does not see a need to expand patient capacity at this time, said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, chief of infectious diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control said the 2012-2013 flu season, which typically runs October through May, is shaping up to be a bad one and the strain may be more virulent. Jahre said this flu season is worse than the previous two, which were particularly light, but not the worst he has seen.
In Pennsylvania, the flu season was off to an early start and was considered widespread in the last half of December, according to the state Department of Health.
In Pennsylvania, there were 7,181 flu cases and four deaths reported from Oct. 2 to Dec. 29, according to the state Department of Health. Lehigh County reported 355 flu cases and Northampton County reported 328 flu cases for the same period. The health department will report updated numbers on Jan. 8.
Influenza—more commonly known as simply "the flu"—is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses infecting the nose, throat and lungs. It spreads via infected people coughing, sneezing or talking, though people can also get infected by touching something with the flu virus on it before touching their mouth, eyes or nose.
Symptoms of the flu include muscle or body aches, headache, cough, sore throat, fatigue, fever or chills, and vomiting and diarrhea (the latter two are more common in kids). The flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions or cause death.
Jahre urged those who have not gotten a flu vaccine to get one – particularly the elderly and children – and those who are often in contact with them.
“It is absolutely not too late to get the vaccine,” he said.