‘Viral Jambalaya’: Early flu adds to US hospital woes


As Americans head into the holiday season, a rapidly escalating flu season is straining hospitals already overwhelmed with patients with other respiratory infections.

More than half of the states have high or very high flu levels, unusually high for this start of the season, the government reported Friday. These 27 states are found primarily in the south and southwest, but include a growing number in the northeast, midwest, and west.

It comes as children’s hospitals are already dealing with a surge in illnesses from RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of cold-like symptoms that can be serious for infants and the elderly. And COVID-19 still contributes to more than 3,000 hospitalizations every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Atlanta, Dr. Mark Griffiths describes the mix as a “viral jambalaya.” He said children’s hospitals in his area had at least 30% more patients than usual for this time of year, with many patients forced to wait in emergency rooms for beds to fill up. open.

“I tell parents that COVID was the ultimate bully. It bullied every other virus for two years,” said Griffiths, emergency medical director at a downtown Atlanta hospital for children’s health care.

With COVID-19 rates dropping, “they’re coming back strong,” he said.

The winter flu season usually doesn’t start until December or January. Flu hospitalization rates haven’t been this high since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, CDC officials say. The highest rates are for people 65 and older and children under 5, the agency said.

“It’s so important that people at high risk get vaccinated,” the CDC’s Lynnette Brammer said in a statement Friday.

But flu vaccinations are down from other years, especially among adults, perhaps because the past two seasons have been mild. Flu shots are recommended for almost all Americans age 6 months or older.

Adults can also get RSV, and the infection can be especially dangerous for frail or chronically ill elderly people, doctors say. There is no vaccine against RSV yet, although some are in development.

An infectious disease expert has urged Americans to take precautions before gathering for Thanksgiving, including avoiding public crowds, taking COVID-19 tests before meeting, and wearing masks indoors — especially if you are old or frail, or if you will be around someone who is.

“Nobody wants to put a virus on the table,” said Dr William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association this week urged the Biden administration to declare an emergency and mount a national response to “the alarming increase in pediatric respiratory disease.” An emergency declaration would allow waivers of Medicaid, Medicare or Children’s Health Insurance program requirements so doctors and hospitals can share resources and access emergency funding, the groups said in a letter.

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