When to go to the emergency room for the flu

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Hospitals across East Tennessee are flooded with patients to check if they have the flu. Local 8 News checked in with UT Medical Center, who said they've been busy.

"We've seen steadily increasing volumes of influenza patients presenting for care," said Mark Rasnake, a UT Medical Center infectious disease physician. "We are close to capacity, not quite as bad as other facilities in the state have been, but we're seeing a lot of flu."

UT Medical Center Infectious Disease Physician urged people not go to the emergency room unless you're at a high risk for developing dangerous complications from the flu.

"The most important thing people can do if they think they have the flu is to stay home, to not spread the flu around to other people," Rasnake said. "We received some communication from the state Department of Health earlier today encouraging people to practice social distancing, to avoid visiting hospitals or nursing homes unless absolutely necessary. Avoid going to the emergency room if you think you have the flu, unless you're very sick with lung disease of heart disease or some other high risk condition. Try to seek care with your primary physician or an urgent care center, and to really if you're sick stay home. Don't expose other people."

East Tennessee Children's Hospital said employees have been busy taking care of patients.

"We've been seeing a big uptick in cases this year verses last year," said Amit Patel, a physician at East Children's Hospital. "I think last month we saw over 400 cases, already into January we're a little under 200 cases."

East Tennessee Children's Hospital said they've had 177 patients test positive for the flu in the first week of January. They have had 437 positive flu tests in the month of December.

Physician Amit Patel had some advice for knowing when you need to take your child to the emergency room.

"If your child is having respiratory distress, working hard to breathe, having trouble catching their breathe, having contractions where they're sucking in the gut, not drinking well, lethargic, not having good urinal output, are all indications that you should head to the hospital," Patel said. "The other issue is kids less than one, you need to be careful with because the symptoms can hit them harder than bigger kids."