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Emerg Infect Dis. 2002 Jun;8(6):569-74.

Medical care capacity for influenza outbreaks, Los Angeles.

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California Department of Health Services, Richmond, California 94804, USA.


In December 1997, media reported hospital overcrowding and "the worst [flu epidemic] in the past two decades" in Los Angeles County (LAC). We found that rates of pneumonia and influenza deaths, hospitalizations, and claims were substantially higher for the 1997-98 influenza season than the previous six seasons. Hours of emergency medical services (EMS) diversion (when emergency departments could not receive incoming patients) peaked during the influenza seasons studied; the number of EMS diversion hours per season also increased during the seasons 1993-94 to 1997-98, suggesting a decrease in medical care capacity during influenza seasons. Over the seven influenza seasons studied, the number of licensed beds decreased 12%, while the LAC population increased 5%. Our findings suggest that the capacity of health-care systems to handle patient visits during influenza seasons is diminishing.

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