Flu cases are rising in the Chicago area as hospitals report an overwhelming increase in pediatric admissions, but could the pressure behind some current flu cases make matters worse?
Hospitals are already reporting a worrying rate of pediatric hospitalizations, with intensive care unit bed capacity dropping well into single digits due to a combination of respiratory and flu viruses. Some health experts fear a post-Thanksgiving surge could stretch already struggling hospitals too far.
“It’s only November and RSV has already come and hit us hard. And there are other viruses that aren’t in the news as much that are also surging right now just because it’s the season for respiratory viruses,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health. “If we see a significant increase, and we will undoubtedly see that, in flu and COVID, on top of that, especially for children, you know, we might run out of good hospital capacity.”
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said “seasonal influenza activity is high across the country,” with levels reported to be elevated in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Public Health told NBC Chicago on Tuesday that the availability of pediatric intensive care beds has fallen to just 5% statewide.
Some experts believe that the current flu strain hits children and the elderly harder than previous strains.
According to IDPH, the current flu strain circulating the most in the state is H3, with some cases being H3N2. A similar trend is reported nationally.
“The majority of viruses detected so far this season have been influenza A(H3N2),” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in their Nov. 18 weekly update.
Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, reportedly said the strain has historically been associated with more severe flu seasons in children and the elderly.
“When we have more H3N2, we generally have a more severe flu season – so longer, more kids affected, more kids with severe illness,” pediatrician Dr. Andi Shane told CNBC. infectious disease expert at Children’s Healthcare Atlanta.
The DuPage County Health Department revealed on Tuesday that there were days when there were no beds available for critically ill children.
“Hospitals and clinics are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people with respiratory illnesses like influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19,” the county health department said Tuesday. DuPage in a statement. “Children are particularly affected, with more children with serious illnesses seeking care in hospitals with a few hours of waiting to be seen. Some even need to be transferred to another health facility.”
The county fears conditions could worsen after the holidays.
“RSV is not a new virus. Influenza is not a new virus. But we are seeing earlier and more severe cases of illness,” Ayala told NBC Chicago. “And yes, we’re worried because…we’re going to get together, we’re going to be spending more time indoors than outdoors. All of this leads us to fear that it will get worse before it gets better. “
Meanwhile, attorney Aurora Health said all of its facilities have a “limited visitation policy” in place as they work to “reduce the spread of COVID, flu and other illnesses.” seasonal”.
A hospital spokesperson told NBC Chicago the decision was “due to the substantial increase in influenza activity.”
Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge is one of many children’s hospitals in the area facing unprecedented demand.
“I’ve never seen pediatric medicine like this in my practice, in my career,” Dr. John Howard, site director of pediatric emergencies, told NBC Chicago on Tuesday.
The waiting time for emergencies is also increasing, up to 10 hours. Advocate Children’s also opened a new “Fast Track” area on November 7, to accommodate patients with less acuity, who may be able to return home the same day.
“Parts of the waiting room have been repurposed to create patient beds where there were none,” Howard said.
So what should you be thinking about if you plan to gather this week?
“If you’re not feeling well, which is, you know, first and foremost, stay home,” Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, told NBC Chicago. “Not really need to know why or what disease it is, but mainly respiratory diseases.”
Although COVID testing remains essential to prevent the spread of COVID, it will not help stop the spread of RSV or influenza.
“I tell parents all the time that cough and snot are contagious,” said Dr. Carly Senescu, pediatric hospitalist at Edward-Elmhurst Health. “So if your child is coughing, it’s contagious. If your child is blowing their nose, licking a toy, sharing it with someone, it’s all contagious. So whether or not they have a high enough viral load for the transmitting is a little bit not as structured as it is for COVID. So I would say it’s the same. Stay home when you’re sick. Wear a mask if you have symptoms.
Health officials are also urging people to get both flu and bivalent COVID shots.