'Almost every patient in the hospital has the flu': How hospitals nationwide are coping with the influenza epidemic

Hospitals in every state are responding to this year's flu epidemic in a plethora of ways, including setting up triage tents, canceling elective surgeries and restricting visitors, among other initiatives, Time reports.

Here are seven things to know about the nationwide flu epidemic.

1. Alabama declared a state of emergency Jan. 15 in response to the flu epidemic and in preparation for potential severe winter weather headed toward the state during the next few weeks.

2. Hospitals in several states, such as California and Pennsylvania, have set up "surge tents" outside emergency departments to accommodate and treat influenza patients. A  spokesperson for Allentown, Pa.-based Lehigh Valley Health Network told Time, "We've put [surge tents] into operation a couples times now over the last few days. I think Tuesday [Jan. 16] we saw upwards of about 40 people in the tent itself."

3. SSM Health St. Clare Hospital-Fenton (Mo.) opened its emergency overflow wing, outpatient centers and surgical holding centers to make more beds available for flu patients, the report states. A nurse at the hospital told Time nurses across all floors are being recruited to help care for flu patients and have been offered an increased hourly rate to work above and beyond their normal schedules.

"Almost every patient in the hospital has the flu, and it's making their pre-existing conditions worse," the nurse told Time. "Nurses are helping out by staying an extra four hours here and there or coming in early. The thing about nursing is it's a sister/brotherhood; we can't leave each other in distress."

4. CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, said Jan. 12 the epidemic appeared to be peaking, but that "it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down," according to the Time report.

5. However, the recent government shutdown may affect the department's efforts. While the HHS' 2018 contingency staff plan stipulates the CDC will "continue minimal support to protect the health and well-being of U.S. citizens here and abroad," former CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, told STAT Jan. 17 the 2013 government shutdown posed a "challenging time" for him and his department.

"[During the shut down] I felt I really couldn't do my job, as CDC director, of keeping Americans safe, because more than 8,500 of my staffers had been told to go home, and they do important things that protect Americans," Dr. Frieden told STAT. "It's unsafe, it's terrible for government, it endangers Americans, and it doesn't save any money. So it's a really bad thing to have happen."

6. The CDC said Friday the shutdown would temporarily end the department's influenza program. However, in an interview with reporters Friday evening, a CDC official reneged on protocols outlined in the department's contigency plan, according to a second STAT report.

"[The] CDC will specifically be continuing their ongoing influenza surveillance," the official told reporters. "They'll be collecting data reported by states, hospitals, [and] others and they'll be reporting that critical information needed for state and local health authorities."

7. The CDC said at least 30 children have died from the flu, to date, this year, USA Today reports. 

Editor's note: This article was updated at 9:55 a.m. to include additional information.

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