MEMPHS, Tenn. – If you feel a sniffle or a sore throat coming on, there’s a good chance it’s the flu.
The CDC says Tennessee currently has the highest levels of flu-like illness in the entire country, and it’s having a big impact on wait times at emergency rooms.
“I was having pain in my chest. And I literally sat there for over 24 hours and waited for a room,” Brandy Williams, an emergency room patient at Methodist University Hospital said.
As cases of flu and other respiratory viruses surge in our community, so do wait times at local emergency departments.
“I’ve been here about seven hours, going on eight, and I literally just got discharged,” Kayla Flynn, another emergency room patient said.
Tennessee is currently the only state in the nation reporting the highest level of flu activity, according to the CDC’s influenza surveillance map.
The CDC ranks six levels of flu activity: Insufficient data, minimal, low, moderate, high and very high.
The very high level is split up into three categories, and Tennessee is the only state that’s ranked in the top category.
Dr. Cassandra Howard, the chief medical officer at Methodist University Hospital, said that means more people are showing up in the emergency room, and healthcare workers are feeling the effects.
“We have definitely seen an increase in patients presenting with respiratory illnesses, including the flu,” she said.
To give you an idea, we went from about 2% of our ED visits last week being influenza like illnesses to 15%.”
That’s why if your symptoms are minor, Dr. Howard recommends calling your primary care provider or consider going to an urgent care or minor med center first.
If you do end up going to the emergency room, be prepared to wait.
“Whether there’s a surge or not, we see every patient that presents. You’ll be registered, triaged. Patients need to understand it’s not first come, first serve. You’re going to be triaged and the sickest will be seen first,” Dr. Howard said.
Even if you call 911 and are taken to the ER by ambulance, it’s important to know you likely still won’t be seen right away. You’ll be triaged and given a wait time based on your symptoms and condition.
Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, said there are many factors leading to high flu activity Tennessee, but low vaccination uptake is one of the main reasons
“Our vaccine rate is probably in the lowest ten states or so in the country for vaccination, for the flu. It’s kind of a hangover effect from COVID, people have vaccine fatigue,” he said. “It’s not too late to get your vaccine. As long as the flu is circulating in the community, it is reasonable to go ahead and get this season’s vaccine.”
Doctors say you should only go to the ER if you are seriously injured or very sick.
That’s typically classified as someone experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing, stroke symptoms or significant physical trauma such as broken bones or lacerations.