Flu spreading faster, hitting harder in homeless community

Flu spreading faster, hitting harder in homeless community. (Victoria Sanchez/ABC7)

A physician who provides health care to the homeless community in Washington D.C. says she’s seeing the flu virus spread faster and hit the vulnerable population harder this year.

Dr. Catherine Crosland is the medical director for homeless outreach services at Unity Health Care. Services are provided to the homeless at shelters and on the streets across the District.

“Mr. Bridgewater? Hi. Come on in,” Crosland said as she welcomed a patient into her exam room.

On Thursday, Crosland gave out flu shots to homeless residents at Catholic Charities’ Adam’s Place Shelter in Northeast Washington. She does everything she can to prevent the spread of the flu.

“So, you want the flu shot today? OK, wonderful,” she told the 68-year-old man.

Crosland says this season’s flu virus is infecting her patients with symptoms that are more severe and last longer than in previous years.

“We’ve seen folks that are so sick that they’ve had to go to the hospital on a couple of occasions,” she said.

“Sicker? Faster? Yes,” said Joel Miles, who has been homeless for seven months.

He got the flu shot Thursday and says he’s shocked to hear so many people are dying from the virus. Miles says illnesses spread quickly in shelters.

“It’s a big open space and the flu is airborne and so you’re trying to minimize the number of people who get exposed to it to prevent a massive outbreak,” Crosland said.

Amanda Chesney is the executive director for homeless and housing services with Catholic Charities. She says the organization provides a clean place to stay for the homeless population. During the flu season, Chesney says the staff stays vigilant to keep things sanitized.

“We’re hoping that people will, instead of staying out on the streets, will come in and see what we can help them with,” Chesney said.

Everything at the shelter is washed daily, including the floors, bathrooms, beds and bedding.

Keeping the flu at bay is a priority for Unity Health Care and Catholic Charities and something that will last until this season wraps up.

“We’re worried that the worst is yet to come,” Crosland said.

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