Flu season peaks early in Tennessee

Nurses at UT Medical Center's Emergency Room say they've been busy with hundreds of patients who have the flu. (Source: Kyle Grainger, WVLT)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Emergency rooms across East Tennessee are busy with people who are battling the flu, doctors say it's one of the worst years they've seen.

At UT Medical Center, emergency room nurses are seeing more patients in one month, than all of last year's flu season. UT reports 120 positive cases of flu in November 2012. The hospital says they saw 73 cases total from November 2011-March 2012.

"This is the worst season yet that we've seen," said Kathy Irizarry in UT's emergency department. "The people we're seeing came when they weren't getting better. At that point it's too late to prescribe Tamiflu, so we're treating symptoms and that's what we've been doing."

It is a similar situation at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. According to the hospitals lab, from Nov. 1 to date, they've tested 1607 patients for the flu. Of those tests, 201 were positive.

Fort Sanders has begun requiring visitors and patients that have coughs or flu like symptoms to wear masks.

Doctors say wiping down common surfaces can help spread the flu. They say the virus can live on surfaces for hours, if not days and when you touch it, you risk getting it in your system.

"The influenza virus can live on surfaces for several days so you need to wash your hands deliberately, especially if you are in public places," said George Mears with Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. "If you have someone who has influenza, they can transmit the virus before they show symptoms and a couple of days after they show symptoms."

Experts with the Knox County Health Department say flu deaths are only reported when it involves a child or a woman who's pregnant. The CDC says levels are at the worst of when most seasons are in their peak, and so far the peak of the flu season isn't here.

What doctors say you need to do:
Get vaccinated
If you feel sick, stay home
High risk patients should see doctor immediately
Wash hands often