UC Davis Medical Center is bracing for a surge in flu patients as some hospitals in the Bay Area and Southern California suffer medication shortages and put tents outside their facilities to accommodate a deluge of patients in their emergency rooms.

So far, the flu season in Sacramento has been comparatively mild. But health officials say that could quickly change.

“We have identified and are creating a space that is adjacent to our emergency department where we will create a flu treatment center,” said Dr. J. Douglas Kirk, the chief medical officer at UCD Medical Center. “We will be prepared to open in the following week. We’ve set a target date of Jan. 24.”

The California Department of Public Health announced Friday that the number of flu-related fatalities rose to 74, up from 42 last Friday. Sacramento County has reported just three flu-related deaths; Yolo County, two; Placer County, one; and El Dorado County, none.

Officials at other Sacramento-area hospital systems say they are assessing their caseloads and will take appropriate action when needed. Kirk and Dr. Stuart Cohen, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UCD, said they have been tracking the flu caseload in their system and monitoring the other UC medical centers around the state to get an understanding of when they can expect a surge of cases.

Cohen said Los Angeles and San Francisco may be suffering the brunt of the impact first because they have larger populations and residents there live in tighter quarters than residents of the Sacramento region. This year’s H3N2 flu strain is widespread in North America, said Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and a hospital epidemiologist at the Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley.

In the East Bay, he said, hospitals are approaching capacity and the antiviral medication Tamiflu is in short supply.

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