A mother-of-three marathon runner died of flu just 48 hours after falling ill.
Katie Oxley Thomas, 40, of San Jose, California, was a yoga enthusiast and runner before she died earlier this month.
Her family told ABC 7 she was taken to the emergency room at Good Samaritan Hospital and her condition declined so quickly that she was moved to intensive care, placed on life support and died that same day – all in the span of 15 hours.
According to Adrienne and Walt Oxley, Thomas’ parents, she had fallen ill 48 hours before her death. The family said they believe Thomas had received a flu shot prior to getting sick.
She is one of 42 people younger than 65 to die in California as hospitals in the state become so overcrowded with patients suffering from the flu that giant camp-like tents are being set up in parking lots.
Loma Linda University Medical Center in San Bernardino County and Palomar Medical Center Escondido in northern San Diego County are just two hospitals in the state that are turning their emergency room parking lots into makeshift treatment areas.
‘There’s a little bit of a feeling of being in the trenches,’ Michelle Gunnett, a nurse with the Southern California hospital system, told the Los Angeles Times.
‘We’re really battling these infections to try to get them under control. We’re still not sure if this is going to continue… but it certainly is an inauspicious start.’
One Redlands resident described the chaos at her area emergency room as a ‘flu war zone’.
‘I’m not a germaphobe or anything, but that will quickly make you one,’ Candysse Miller, who took her 88-year-old father to get treatment, said.
In recent weeks, thousands have sought treatment at California hospitals.
This season’s flu outbreak, which began in October and typically lasts until May, has been particularly devastating.
Health officials have reported more than 40 deaths in people younger than 65 in California, compared to the nine reported deaths at this time last year.
To combat the influx of patients, staff are setting up ‘surge tents’, giant brown tents that are typically used for major disasters. Beds are separated by sheets hanging from the ceilings in order to provide some type of privacy.
Connie Cunningham, executive director for Loma Linda’s emergency services, said she expected the tents to be up for only a few days but staff members are still treating 60 more patients a day than usual.
‘In my career, I’ve never seen anything like this,’ she said.
Other hospitals in California the state have flown in nurses from out of state and are sending away ambulances as they continue to deal with the outbreak.
Some facilities, like Palomar, are canceling scheduled surgeries to free-up staff, while several others are treating people in the hallways.
Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose was forced to clear out a storage area to make room for the surge they saw in patients.
‘Those are all creative things we wouldn’t typically do, but in a crisis like this, we’re looking at,’ Gunnett told the Los Angeles Times.
The massive flu outbreak isn’t just affecting hospitals across California. Pharmacies are running out Tamiflu and other medications used to treat the virus.
Nihar Mandavia, a pharmacist who owns Druggist Pharmacy in Laguna Niguel told Daily Mail Online that his pharmacy has been selling an average of 30 Tamiflu per day.
‘Usually during flu season we sell maybe one a day,’ he said.
‘I’ve already gone through eight in the last three hours we’ve been open,’ he added. ‘I spent my Sunday night looking for Tamiflu for wholesale.’
To try and stop the virus from spreading, some hospitals in California and across the US have implemented age-restrictions limiting when teens and young children can visit sick relatives.
Flu season officially begins in October but this year’s particularly dangerous strain, H3N2, has come relatively early and the season has not reached its peak yet.
‘It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,’ said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, Los Angeles County’s interim health officer.
The same strain was primarily responsible for causing more than 1,000 people in Australia to become ill.
H3N2 has also been responsible for some of the worst flu seasons in the US in recent years, including the 2006-2007, 2012-2013, and 2014-2015 bouts.
To fight off the virus, the CDC recommends three main antivirals: oseltamivir (sold under the brand name Tamiflu,) zanamivir (Relenza), and peramivir, all of which the CDC says contain a strain of H3N2 which should be effective against this year’s version.
The nasal spray, however, is not thought to be a worthwhile preventative measure against this flu.
Health officials also recommend people cover coughs and sneezes, wash their hands, get tested early and stay home if they do become sick.
California is one of the 49 states that reported either regional or widespread flu activity, excluding Delaware. There have been 70 deaths across the US, according to a CDC report from earlier this month.