AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake This year flu cases are also peaking in the traditional period – middle and late December – while they did so later in recent years. For elderly patients or those with other underlying health problems, such as diabetes or lung disease, a severe cold or a bad case of flu may require a trip to the emergency room. Jones said anyone suffering shortness of breath should seek care immediately, because that can be an indication of pneumonia. One such patient is Paul Allen, 80, of Encino, who received treatment Tuesday at Northridge Hospital’s ER for flu and an early case of pneumonia. “I always get a flu shot, but I forgot this year, because I was traveling in Europe,” said Allen, a retired furniture-factory owner who works out at a gym several days a week. Allen started feeling ill last Thursday and quickly developed a cough, a low-grade fever and muscle aches. When over-the-counter medicine didn’t help, and he was weak from lack of sleep and loss of appetite, he called his regular physician, who sent him to the emergency room. Coughing, sneezing, aching patients are flooding hospital emergency rooms, forcing hours-long delays for treatment and increasing the likelihood of spreading the flu, medical experts said Tuesday. Dr. Stephen Jones, medical director of emergency services at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, said emergency room personnel have seen a 10 percent to 20 percent spike over the past three weeks in patients – most of them seeking treatment for what they suspect is the flu. The influx has forced some noncritical patients to wait as long as eight hours to see a doctor. “Not only is the waiting room a great way to spread the virus, but the sheer volume of patients makes it more difficult to take care of the sicker ones in a timely manner,” Jones said, adding that the staff also has been thinned by illness and holiday vacations. Despite the patient crush, this is actually just an average influenza season, said Dr. David Dassey, deputy chief of acute communicable disease control for the Los Angeles County Health Department. But it may seem worse because it follows several mild flu seasons, he said. Since flu season could run through March this year, it’s not too late to get a vaccination, Dassey said. Most of the flu strains detected this year are covered by the vaccine, but it takes 10 to 14 days for the body to build up immunity. Dr. Stanley Shapiro, an infectious disease physician with Kaiser-Permanente in Panorama City, said people should cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough to avoid spreading the virus. To reduce chances of catching a cold or the flu, people should wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use waterless hand sanitizer. And for those who do contract a cold or the flu, the best treatment consists of bed rest, fluids and acetaminophen for fever, experts said. Anti-viral drugs can reduce the risk of serious complications for people with chronic health conditions. “Stay out of the ER unless you’re really dying, please, because really sick people need to be there,” Dassey said. “Influenza, for the most part, may make you feel like you’re going to die, but you won’t.” Lisa M. Sodders, (818) 713-3663 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!