Deadly flu outbreak: How extra nurses were brought in to help overwhelmed hospitals

By Leigh Frillici - Reporter

HOUSTON - The active flu season is now putting a strain on local hospitals and doctors' offices.

They are overwhelmed with not only patients, but in some places, their own staff is coming down with the flu.

WATCH: One family's flu warning


Within HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division's 14 Houston area hospitals, nurses and their families were coming down with the flu so they brought in extra staff from out of town.  

“We have some of our caregivers themselves getting sick from the flu,” said Dr. Carl Vartian, HCA Gulf Coast Division’s Chief Information Officer. “We can beg and borrow some staff members from elsewhere, so we've already had about a 101 individuals come in, most of them being nurses, to help get some time off to the people who had to work extra shifts.”

This flu season has been especially tough.

The Harris County Health Department says there’s been a 150 percent increase in flu cases when you compare the beginning of the 2016 flu season to the end of the year with the same time frame for 2017.  

Another problem, this season’s flu vaccine is not as effective.

The flu is hitting whole families too.

Lisa Cressman, her husband and two sons all came down with the flu, just in time for Christmas.

It was miserable for them. Cressman said her family was so sick it was hard to put ornaments on their tree

“It was a Charlie Brown tree if there ever was one because we could hardly put the ornaments on," Cressman said.

The Cressman’s motored through Christmas morning trying to make the best of feeling very sick and feeling very much like the angel on their tree top.

“We put the angel on and it kept falling over and we sort of felt like, ‘The angel feels like what we feel like -- you can't even hold yourself upright,” she said.

Dr. Carman Whiting at UT Health Center at Sienna village said the Cressman family isn't the only one who got hit with the flu. 

“We've seen more families and that's typical,” Whiting said. “It's very contagious. Obviously, if one family member is sick another one is probably going to get it.”

Getting to the doctor quickly can help. There's medicine, like Tamiflu, which can shorten the duration of the flu.

“The most important thing is to recognize the symptoms early,” Whiting said. “The fever usually is pretty high -- 101, chills, body aches and then that cough.”

Cressman credits her quick trip to the doctor as soon as she felt the flu coming on with her faster recovery. She joked about their situation -- riffing on their own "Night before Christmas."

“From the top of the porch, to the top of the walls. Stay away, stay away, stay away all,” Cressman said.


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