Hospitals in the San Fernando Valley are experiencing a spike in patients reporting H1N1 “swine” flu symptoms, leading one administrator to call it a “Valley-wide outbreak” of the virus.

Three Providence hospitals in the valley — Holy Cross, Tarzana and Saint Joseph — are reporting a 10 percent increase in flu patients compared to the same time last year, says spokeswoman Patricia Aidem.

“We're in communication with hospitals in our area and, yes, we're seeing a Valley-wide outbreak, which means we've exceeded what's normal or expected this time of year,” said Marirose Medina, infection preventionist at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center.

Likewise, a spokeswoman at Northridge Hospital Medical Center said, “our numbers are up. All the ERs [emergency rooms] in the Valley have an increase in patients.”

Aidem says the virus has, true to form, affected younger people, including children, who have been coming to Providence's Holy Cross and Tarzana hospitals. Tarzana in particular has gone so far as to limit children under the age of 16 from visiting key pediatric areas such as its post-partum facilities. So many young people are turning up with flu symptoms in the Valley that officials don't want to expose more-vulnerable babies.

“This [age policy] is being implemented in anticipation of a surge in H1N1 infections in the community,” wrote chief medical officer Glenn Irani in a memo.

Patients with H1N1 symptoms, often students, started showing up in increasing numbers at Providence's Valley hospitals starting in early September, when school started, Aidem says. While there has been some doubt about whether all of these admittedly mild cases add up to H1N1 (testing for swine flu costs around $300 and is being discouraged for economic reasons for now), Providence officials are confident H1N1 is spreading this fall.

Symptoms include fever, a deep cough and and gastrointestinal problems.

“Most of the flu circulating now is H1N1,” says infection preventionist Medina.



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