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Influenza: The Worst Y2K Bug?

 Influenza is running rampant, with sneezing and wheezing taking their toll. Although officials say this flu season is typical, some places have been harder hit than others, reports CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras.


In New York emergency rooms, the patient load has exploded. In his 18 years in medicine, Dr. Robert Labinson says this is the worst epidemic he's ever seen.


"We're filling beds that were open in an effort to help patients," Labinson said. "Our intensive care unit is completely filled. Many of those are elderly people with serious heart and lung disease that have been negatively infected by influenza infections."


People are feeling wretched all over. Fourteen states report widespread illness, while 21 others have recorded regional outbreaks. It's sporadic in fourteen more states and the misery is spreading to the health care system itself.


New York State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello told CBS Early Show Co-Anchor Jane Clayson that while this is the same kind of flu as last year, officials are seeing more widespread cases happening earlier in the season. She said while there are 109 cases reported in New York City, there were only 19 reported at the same time last year.


In southern California, blood banks are suffering shortages by one account, the most severe in 20 years because donors are just too sick to give.


"I have a concern now that if the flu is to continue, we'll have great difficulty in recovering from the blood shortage," said Dr. Peter Page. "It has been so short here that elective surgery has been postponed and we've been moving blood around from hospital to hospital more often than usual because we don't have the supplies here."


Hospital staff are calling in sick, too, victims of the same virus for which they treated their patients. In part, that's because too few of them got the flu shot.


"If you go to your local hospital you will still be able to get vaccinated," Novello said. "It will take one or two weeks to get the antibodies that protect you."


Novello said pain in the joints, extreme tiredness and fever are all symptoms of the virus.


The flu virus doesn't stop at borders and it's hit Europe and the Middle East hard, reports CBS News Correspondent Jesse Schulman.


In Israel, over 100 people have died of flu complications like pneumonia. That's the worst figure in ten years. Hospitals are so busy, they're parking patients in hallway, and all routine surgery has been canceled until further notice. Health officials are keeping an eye on the numbers and are looking for any sign this outbreak will peak soon, but so far, the figures are moving all one way, and that is up.


In Britain, patients take a number and wait. Hospitals are full as the outbreaapproaches epidemic proportions and delays for treatment have turned into a political football. Critics blame government health care cutbacks for putting lives on the line.


In France, doctors are coping, aided with a bit of good luck. This year's flu strain is the same as last year's, but the elderly are still high risk. In the Netherlands, mass vaccinations are standard procedure - over 90 percent of people over 60 get flu shots and doctors say that's keeping this year's outbreak manageable for now.
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