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Western nations are grappling with a health crisis as winter hits the US and UK. In the US, a flu outbreak has hit 46 states and with the spread of the ailment, the supply of Tamiflu is running out.
In the UK, the winter crisis has worsened as hospitals run out of beds with the surge in the number of flu and norovirus patients that health authorities have warned they can no longer cope with. The situation is worsened by the lack of ambulances that are stuck outside Accident and Emergency departments over the winter due to lack of hospital staff to receive the patients.
Dr. Andrew Walshak, an emergency physician at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s, said that flu cases were sporadic in November, but it has progressed to an epidemic phase. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of flu patients are people over 65.
However, there is also an influx of flu and rhinovirus patients in the hospital’s pediatric units, Dr. Jason Blauwet, the pharmacy director at PSL, said, CBS reported.
A number of viruses cause flu which is a respiratory infection. The viruses pass through the air and enter the body through the nose or the mouth. Medicine Plus estimated that between 5 percent and 20 percent of people in the US get the flu each year. For elderly people, newborn babies, and people with chronic diseases, flu can be serious or fatal.
Besides flu, the rise in respiratory diseases resulted in a surge in demand for anti-viral drugs in pharmacies across the US. Tamiflu, a medication for influenza, is selling fast, Blauwet observed.
Health authorities noted that the flu season began early in 2018. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine has not been effective in treating the most common strain. Walshak explained that the flu shot has multiple strains in it, so it may not be a perfect match for other strains of the flu. He blames the widespread impact of the flu on a lot of people opting out of vaccinations.
The CDC estimated that the flu vaccine effectiveness is 32 percent. Although it is not 100 percent, it is still effective for a significant portion of the population, Dr. Jennifer Layden, the chief medical officer at the Illinois Department of Public Health, said. Those who had the vaccine, even if they get the flu, have a mild version and it is unlikely that they will go to the hospital. They are also contagious for a less amount of time.
Dr. Claire Bocchini, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital, pointed out that the current flu strain is dangerous. It is not the regular virus that gives patients a couple of days of a runny nose. Across the US, 13 children have died of flu this season.
Rachel Sherman, a teacher at the Jewish Council for Youth Services Early Childcare Center, said that to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the flu, health officials encourage frequent washing of hands before snack time, before meal times, and before and after using the toilet.
A&E teams struggle
In the UK, BBC reported that A&E teams are struggling as patients are being left for hours on trolleys in corridors of hospitals or are stuck in ambulances. It makes the country’s hospitals unsafe and overcrowded, Chris Hopson of NHS Providers said.
Patients described the situation as chaotic with trolleys all over the place, medical personnel running up and down corridors, and lines of ambulances outside. Hopson said that Britain’s hospital service was evidently over-stretched and the staff run-ragged. Many places have no free bed at all.
In response to the NHS winter crisis, 9 of 10 ambulance services in England declared the second-highest level of alert. The nine ambulance services all have declared Resource Escalation Action Plan level three. These are the ambulance services for East Midlands, East of England, North East, North West, South Central, South East Coast, South Western, West Midlands, and Yorkshire.
Only the London Ambulance Service was operating below REAP level three, Sky News reported. The service is on REAP level two which indicates moderate pressure. Level one indicates an ambulance service is in a steady state, while in level four, it is under extreme pressure.
The ambulances are affected by handover delays because it now takes longer than 30 minutes to pass a patient to hospital staff and prepare the ambulance for the next call. Over 900 patients had to wait more than one hour which cost the ambulance services the equivalent of 23 12-hour shifts every day, WMAS said.
Also affecting the service is a large number of callouts that do not need hospital treatment. Only 60 percent of the calls require transportation to the hospital or medical services, but the patients were, nevertheless, brought to hospitals due to the lack of social care, and it was not safe for the patient to remain at home.