Swine Flu Hot Spots

Southern U.S. first to battle deadly flu

ByABC News
September 23, 2009, 12:17 PM

Sept. 24, 2009— -- As the nation braces for flu season and a potential outbreak of swine flu, the South already appears to be dealing with a wave of H1N1 cases, setting up tents to deal with hundreds of possibly infected children each day.

The hospitals in the southeastern United States have been dealing with a high volume of likely swine flu cases several months before seasonal flu typically hits, and some fear the strain may be moving north -- and everywhere else.

Track outbreaks of the H1N1 virus across the country at the CDC's FluView Website

"It's spreading everywhere," said Dr. James C. Turner, executive director of the department of student health at the University of Virginia and president of the American College Health Association (ACHA). "It's a typical flu season, but the thing that's so bizarre is it started in late August."

In the most recent report from the ACHA, Turner noted that cases among college students in the South appeared to be decreasing. However, "there have been significant increases in disease activity in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Rocky Mountain regions of the country."

While Turner said his campus sees 15 to 20 new patients a day with likely swine flu, some other areas of the South are being hit harder.

"Three-hundred-fifty [kids] a day are coming in, and about half of those have flu-like symptoms," said Sara Burnett, a spokeswoman for Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis. "We put up a tent two weeks ago to help screen those kids."

Dr. Keith English, director of infectious disease at Le Bonheur, said that the hospital's emergency department is seeing roughly double the number of patients it would at this time in a typical year.

English said roughly half of the patients presenting at the hospital showed symptoms of influenza, with about 57 percent of the patients who were tested having swine flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that hospitals not take samples to determine definite swine flu, so cases are classified as likely swine flu by observing the patient and making the determination in the clinic.

Le Bonheur is not the only hospital to set up triage tents for possible swine flu patients.

At Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin, Texas, tents also have been set up to deal with a daily flow of patients that has more than doubled past 330 when compared to typical totals -- around 160 during this time of year.

Similar problems are happening elsewhere in Austin.

"We are overflowing with patients -- none of whom are very ill -- thank goodness," said Dr. Ari Brown, a local pediatrician, in an e-mail to ABC News. "I saw one young man with flu who was the 17th player of his varsity football team to have [swine flu] -- [it's] spreading like wildfire."

And officials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville told "World News" they have seen more than 5,000 patients with flu-like symptoms so far this month. Its children's emergency department has increased its staffing by 50 percent.