Rising Flu and Respiratory Illnesses Filling Local Emergency Rooms

by Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND/ODESSA - A rising number of flu and respiratory disease cases in the Basin are causing some hospitals to lose space in their emergency rooms.

Two weeks ago, flu cases were sporadic across the state of Texas. But now according to the Texas Department of State Health Service's website, as of Christmas, the state has hit a full outbreak.

"We are seeing daily cases," Val Sparks with Infection Prevention at Midland Memorial Hospital, said.

On New Year's Eve, hospitals like Odessa Regional Medical Center saw more cases of the flu than alcohol sickness.

"I would say we're seeing up to 30 cases a day," Dr. Lawrence Voesack, with Odessa Regional Medical Center, said. "Those are the ones that actually come in. It doesn't even take into account the number of people who are at home feeling sick and just are toughing it out."

And for Midland Memorial Hospital, the spike in the flu is right there in the numbers.

"Pharyngitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, just colds, the flu of course. We have had 56 confirmed cases of influenza since December 23rd and 181 influenza-like illnesses," Sparks said.

That deadly combination of the flu and other respiratory diseases poses another threat, running out of room in the emergency room.

When NewsWest 9 contacted charge nurses in the Midland Memorial ER over the weekend, they reported having only four beds available, sometimes just two.

Midland Memorial Hospital officials confirmed on Monday they've been operating on a minimum number of beds in both their Intensive Care and Critical Care Units.

But that can't stop them from doing their jobs.

"You have to treat as patients come in," Sparks said. "You have to triage them, and of course we do have extra. We can do hallway, we can do bay areas."

Midland Memorial said their emergency room along with the expanded portion built back in 2008 are filling up.

There's construction going on for a new tower which will house more emergency room space, but that won't be finished until 2013.

Until then, doctors are urging West Texans to take great care with their health, spotting and treating the symptoms before the flu breaks.

Signs of the flu include sudden, severe muscle aches and fatigue, along with a high fever.

If you have questions about any symptoms you feel, Midland Memorial Hospital said a helpful number you can call is: (432) 68-NURSE. There you can speak with a registered nurse.