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Medstar Experiences 611% Increase in Flu-Related Calls for Service

A dramatic increase in people with flu-like symptoms being transported by ambulance has a Tarrant County agency preparing in the event of an even bigger outbreak.

Medstar Mobile Healthcare tells NBC 5 one option may be to funnel flu patients into a single hospital.

There have been no flu-related deaths in Tarrant County so far this 2017-2018 season, according to Tarrant Public Health officials on Monday.

However, the latest report shows reported flu cases are higher than they were in the previous season.

Medstar is also reporting an uptick in the 15 cities it serves in the region.

Influenza Surveillance Report (Week Ending Jan. 27, 2018)
Click on each state for more information.

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Nina Lin/NBC

Fighting the spread of the flu is also a task for first responders.

On Monday afternoon, paramedics spent time in the garage area at the Medstar headquarters located along Alta Mere Drive in Fort Worth disinfecting ambulances.

“We don’t want our folks to get sick,” said Medstar spokesman Matt Zavadsky. “One of the things the CDC recommends is if you’re sick, don’t interact with people. Well, that doesn’t work very well in an ambulance because [patients are] going to interact with folks.”

Disinfecting measures are happening more often as an increased number of people with flu-like symptoms are calling 911 for help.

Medstar reports its flu-related calls went from an average of two a day in the fall to 15 in January.

“That is a 611% increase,” said Zavadsky.

He says such a staggering uptick may require a bigger response involving more agencies, especially since there are still several weeks left in the flu season.

“Whether that is identifying specific hospitals that we are going to be transporting these patients,” he said. “To maybe coming up with alternative receiving facilities for patients that have flu-like symptoms to help decompress the healthcare system.”

Zavadsky tells NBC 5, they haven’t seen such a plan implemented since the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2013.

“We actually had hospitals designated to take flu victims so that the rest of the healthcare system could support one facility,” he said.

Hospitals across the nation are experiencing an influx of flu patients.

A San Diego hospital experienced a surge of flu patients in late December that the hospital created a triage area with tents outside of their building.

“We may have to look at a number of those options to help make sure the healthcare resources are available for the people who need them in this community,” he said.

Zavadsky stresses that the current situation is not affecting the agency’s ability to handle flu and other calls for service.

Medstar, along with Tarrant Public Health and area hospitals are monitoring where the flu cases are, where patients are being taken to and plan to meet this week.

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