Achey, feverish flu patients are flooding area emergency rooms, and at least two hospitals had to temporarily turn away non-emergency cases yesterday.
Laurel Regional Hospital in Laurel and Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham were on yellow alert yesterday afternoon, asking ambulances to take noncritical patients to other hospitals.
"Any time there's a change in weather, when it gets really cold and then really hot and when the flu season starts, you get an increase in patient load," said Helen Singleton, a nursing supervisor at Laurel Regional.
At Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, hospital officials rerouted ambulances with trauma patients to other hospitals for a period on Tuesday, spokeswoman Ronna Borenstein said.
"We have filled almost every bed in the hospital," she said. "A lot of those are patients with flu. . . . Most of them are elderly." Some had gotten a flu shot this season, she said.
Laurel Regional was on yellow alert for two hours yesterday and for at least two hours a few days ago, Singleton said. Alerts usually occur every couple months, she said.
Singleton said she didn't think that many flu patients were admitted at Laurel, but that more patients with other maladies may have gone there because other hospital emergency rooms were busy. At Children's Hospital, a nurse said, "It's been very, very busy," with young patients filling the emergency room in the past few weeks.
Lesa Eser, administrative coordinator at Prince George's Hospital Center, said the facility has been as busy in the past four or five days as at any time in 15 years, with many patients complaining of flu symptoms and respiratory infections.
At D.C. General, a nurse said the flu is "really wiping out people. . . . A lot of people are being admitted with other complications like pneumonia," she said.
The flu's assault seems to have arrived early this year. Normally, the peak season is later in January or February, doctors said.
Rick Alcorta, head of Maryland's Emergency Medical Resource Center, a state agency that tracks the status of hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington area, called the flu outbreak a health care crisis.
Alcorta said two strains of flu are combining to hit the region hard.
"If the flu continues and escalates where we have more people sick, we could theoretically saturate all of our hospital beds in the state," Alcorta said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.