Dr. Kathleen Parente of Pediatric Associates of Alexandria said her office has seen “a lot” of patients with symptoms.
“At least half are coming up positive, but a lot of kids have had the vaccine,” she said. “It’s a bit disconcerting.”
CDC officials said more than 120 million doses of the vaccine are available, and it prevents illness in about 70 percent of healthy people. Often people who have had the shot but contract the flu anyway have milder symptoms, officials said. But people can fall ill to a strain that the vaccine does not cover or could come into contact with the illness in the few weeks between the time they get the vaccine and the time it takes effect, officials said.
Dr. Parente said her office doesn’t normally see big flu numbers until late January or early February, but this year’s uptick has prompted doctors at the practice to host a flu clinic, where children can get a flu vaccine without an appointment.
Laurel Regional Hospital in Prince George’s County is holding its own flu clinic, and the Prince George’s Hospital Center also is planning a clinic to combat the increasing numbers of flu sufferers.
Erika Murray, a spokeswoman with Dimensions Healthcare System, which oversees three Prince George’s County hospitals, said the trio of health centers have all seen an increase in flu reports, though not to the extent that a triage tent is needed.
“We either bring in additional staff or hold over staff due to volume,” Ms. Murray said of the hospital’s contingency plan.
At George Washington University Hospital in the District, Dr. Tenagne Haile-Mariam, an emergency medicine specialist, said “we’re equipped for everything to happen.”
“We have a surge capacity plan to accommodate for any time when it looks like we’re going to need more resources for the number of patients that we’re going to be seeing,” she said. “Within the system we try to free up beds in the hospital, we try to free up beds in the emergency room. We have a system where we recruit other spaces and personnel with surges.”
The key to being ready, Dr. Haile-Mariam said, is to expect an annual uptick in influenza-like illnesses.
“We know this is a disease that spans a big part of the calendar,” she said. A sign at the entrance to the emergency room prompts patients to self-report if they have any symptoms associated with the flu, such as a high fever, body aches and headaches. If so, the person is asked to wear a mask.
Tony Raker, spokesman for the Inova Health System, said the hospitals and urgent care centers in Northern Virginia are all prepared for the deluge of flu patients.
“Everyone is seeing an uptick,” Mr. Raker said. “Triage at the emergency department is very important.”
Short of providing over-the-counter medicine, the hospitals and walk-in centers cannot do much more if a patient isn’t a young child, a pregnant woman, or a senior citizen — the three categories most susceptible to serious flu-related illness.
“We do case management within the hospitals themselves,” Mr. Raker said. “Those patients ready to go home free up beds that are necessary, but we always have certain areas to open up for additional patients.”