Surge of flu & other viruses cause hospital to set up tents

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (WPVI) -- Influenza and other viruses continue to hit hard.

Hard enough for one local health system to set up surge tents, to handle the volume of contagious patients.

Lehigh Valley Health Network set up a tent at both its Muhlenberg campus in Bethlehem and the Cedar Crest campus in Allentown last week.

"This is our mobile surge hospital, " said Lindsay Houck, R.N., M.S.N., the director of nursing at the Cedar Crest E-R, said as she took 6ABC Health Reporter Ali Gorman through the ten,t.

Houck says the 12 bed, fully equipped tent went up right outside the main emergency room when they started seeing a surge in patients coming in for various reasons including the flu, norovirus and RSV.

"All right, Ron, we're going to recheck your temperature," said a nurse entering one of the tent's cubicles.

Ron Speakman is one of about 25,000 people in Pennsylvania to catch the flu so far this season.

47 have died, up to January 20th.

Pennsylvania's acting health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says this year's flu season is significant.

"It's not inconsistent with what we have seen other severe seasons but it is certainly causing a lot of illness," Dr. Levine says.

While symptoms of a cold are above the neck, and come on gradually, the flu comes on quickly, with body aches, high fevers, and headaches.

Both colds and flu can cause coughs, a runny nose, and a sore throat.

"My temperature was 101.9 and then when i can back it was up to 103," said Speakman, of Allentown.

The flu is mostly spread through droplets in the air, so I wore a mask to protect myself.

They're given to all patients coming in with respiratory symptoms here, and staff are also donning masks.

"That mask is going on even before opening the door," said Houck.

Dr. Andrew Miller says this year's dominant strain, the H3N2, can be especially severe.

The tent gives them more space to keep sick people away from others.

"I've been doing this 15 years and this is probably the 3rd top in sickness for the flu that I've seen in my experience," said Dr. Miller.

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