Snowbirds and relatives have brought some undesirable holiday gifts: Sniffles, achy muscles, headaches, fever. The flu is making its way around Arizona.
Emergency waiting rooms have nearly twice as many red-nosed, watery-eyed, exhausted patients. And as the number rises, the wait gets longer.
The emergency room staff at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital usually sees 100 to 140 patients a day without any wait. But on Tuesday, they saw more than 200, and some patients had to wait four hours.
It could have been worse. At Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, people with sniffles in the emergency room waited up to 10 hours while doctors and nurses tended to heart attack or other more serious patients.
"We have been slammed," said hospital spokeswoman Nancy Neff. "But obviously, we’ve been doing our best to get people through as quickly as possible."
Cases of influenza are on the rise. State health officials counted 388 reports of flu in Arizona last week — 48 percent of all the cases reported so far this season.
Cold weather that passed through Arizona prompted the spike, health officials say. They also say visitors seeking refuge from snow country or staying with family may have brought in viruses.
The flu isn’t the only illness that’s catching. Strep throat, croup, common colds and bronchitis also are making an appearance, lengthening the line of patients waiting for care.
Urgent care facilities emerged to provide fast treatment. But even the East Valley Urgent Care in Gilbert, where care usually is given within a few minutes, had a slight waiting period Tuesday.
Grayson Latsko, 7, of Chandler, waited less than an hour to get tested for strep throat at the urgent care center.
He has many of the symptoms that are often associated with strep: Fever, sore throat, stuffy nose.
"My head just feels really hot," said Grayson, a tall firstgrader with glasses. His face was flushed and he sniffled as he squeezed his long-legged stuffed elephant "Ellie" while waiting for his Zithromax prescription.
Like influenza, strep and other respiratory illnesses are fairly common in the winter. Grayson’s doctor, Douglas Hobbs, said it’s especially problematic for asthma patients at this time, when the Valley is under advisory for high pollution.
"We’re seeing a lot of asthmatics," Hobbs said. "We end up doing X-rays and giving steroids to these guys to get the inflammation out. We’re a little more aggressive about treating them for pulmonary infections."
People suffering from asthma and other chronic ailments are more susceptible to influenza and other illnesses.
Although the flu season is in full swing, it isn’t too late for people to get a flu shot, said Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director at the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Asthmatics especially are at risk for hospitalization if they catch the flu, she said, so it’s better to be vaccinated.
The flu season usually subsides in the spring.