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Flu stretching hospitals in US

15th January 2013
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Healthcare services and drug supplies are being stretched to the limit in the United States as the authorities warn this year's flu season is severe.

Official figures indicate that influenza is now "widespread" in 41 states, with high numbers of cases reported in New York, where state governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a public health emergency.

The measures are aimed at making it easier for people to get vaccinations, and provides for pharmacists to give children their flu jab.

Eighteen children have died so far, and 2,257 people have been sent to hospital with their influenza confirmed by laboratory testing.

However, the death rate has not yet reached epidemic proportions.

According to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, seasonal flu is always a major public health issue and always will be.

He said this year's seasonal flu may be a very big problem, but it was still too soon to say how big.

Curtis Allen, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the flu season was in its fifth week, and most last for up to 12 weeks.

He said every flu season was different, however, and this year's would be no exception.

Patients have flocked to emergency departments across the northeastern US with symptoms resembling flu, and those who are coughing are being seen in outside locations in some areas to prevent further infection.

Robert Glatter, an emergency doctor at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, said the facility was opening extra work spaces to take care of the influx of patients.

He said medics were almost as worried about the situation as they had been during the swine flu outbreak of H1N1 in 2009.

The severity of this year's flu is of particular concern, he said, adding many patients are elderly and suffer from severe aches, chills, cough, fevers, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

In Boston alone, the number of confirmed cases has risen to 10 times the number reported last year, and the city authorities have declared a public health emergency.

Free flu vaccines are on offer at health centers across the city, but supplies are running low, and have already run out in some areas of the city.

Flu vaccine giant Sanofi said four out of its six different influenza vaccines had sold out, including one aimed at children.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline, says its supplies will probably last another month, while the liquid form of Tamiflu for children is running short. Manufacturer Roche said it will send out new supplies as soon as it has them to sell.

Hospitals are increasingly turning away visitors with flu-like symptoms in a bid to prevent the spread of influenza, pertussis and norovirus, all of which have spiked in recent weeks.

However, exceptions are being made for those visiting a terminally ill loved one.

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