By Cheril Vernon

Messenger Copy Editor

PALESTINE – An influx of patients – especially those with flu symptoms – have flooded area hospitals in recent weeks.

Palestine Regional Medical Center is just one of several area hospitals reported to be at capacity.

“Our capacity is full. We’ve had surrounding hospitals try to transfer patients to us on a daily basis,” PRMC Chief Nursing Officer Patsy Walker said. “All the surrounding hospitals are at capacity as well. We’ve made calls to hospitals in Tyler, Lufkin, Longview, facilities in Houston and Dallas – they are all full. It’s everybody, not just us.”

PRMC has 156 beds, but staff call-ins due to the flu season have also led the hospital to be considered at capacity even if all the beds aren’t taken.

“We have had a lot of call-ins because of the flu. Not all of our beds are filled with patients with the flu, but we I know we had 300-plus positive flu swabs in December just in our Emergency Department (ED),” Walker said.

In some cases, PRMC has sent patients as far as to Waco to find a bed.

“If we find a bed, it’s a lucky phone call,” Walker  said. “It’s this time of the year. It always depends on the flu. If it’s not bad we don’t see this overcrowding, but when it is, it causes overcrowding in the ED.”

The closing of Timberland Healthcare in Crockett last year has sent Houston County area patients to Palestine, Lufkin, Madisonville and Tyler hospitals.

“We have seen an increase in the patient load in the Emergency Department since they closed,” Walker said.

Walker encouraged the public to stay home when they are sick and to practice good hand-washing hygiene.

“Cover your mouth when you cough. The main thing is to stay home and wash your hands,” Walker said.

According to the most recent Texas Influenza Surveillance Report produced by the Texas Department of State Health Services for the week ending Jan. 6, the statewide influenza activity level reported to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is considered “widespread” and at a “high” level. The percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza by public health laboratories is 73 percent for the current week (Dec. 31-Jan. 6) and the previous week.

Hospital laboratories across Texas voluntarily report influenza tests to the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS), while providers in Texas also submit specimens for influenza testing to Texas public health laboratories on a volunteer basis, such as the DSHS state laboratory in Austin and the nine Texas Laboratory Response Network (LRN) laboratories, according to the report.

Influenza symptoms generally come on suddenly, one to four days after the virus enters the body, and may include these symptoms:

• Fever or feeling feverish/chills

  Cough

  Sore throat

  Runny or stuffy nose

  Headache

  Muscle or body aches

  Tiredness (can be extreme)

Among children, otitis media (ear infection), nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common. Some infected persons are asymptomatic.

Influenza-like illness, or ILI, is defined as fever less than 100°F and cough and/or sore throat (in the absence of a known cause other than influenza), according to the TDSHS.

Treatment

“Most people who develop influenza illness will recover on their own by getting rest and will not need medication. Antiviral medications can shorten the duration and severity of illness if given within the first 48 hours of the illness,” according to the flu report. “These medications are usually prescribed to persons who have a severe illness or to those who are at higher risk for developing serious illness or complications due to influenza.”