Flu and RSV Continue to Spread as Some Hospitals Reach the Brink of Disaster
Flu and RSV cases continue to rise throughout most of the US. Children and people over the age of 65 are more vulnerable, as they have a higher chance of suffering severe illness these viruses. RSV alone has hospitalized thousands of infants less than 1 year old. The combined toll of these viruses has pushed many healthcare facilities to their limit, which has lowered the quality of care for both emergency and non-emergency patients. The rate of flu hospitalization is 10 times higher than normal for this time of year. The US usually doesn’t see this level of flu activity until December and January. Infectious disease experts do not know for certain if the level of flu and RSV will persist through January or February. An anticipated COVID-19 surge may also impact the spread of these other viruses, further complicating the outlook. Experts have voiced concerns that outbreaks of all three viruses could occurs at once. While some epidemiologists predict it is more likely that one or two of the viruses will “crowd out” the others, most agree that respiratory illness will be a disruptive force this winter.
Hospitals and physicians’ office around the country are already feeling the impacts. In Washington State, emergency departments are in a constant state of crisis. Dr. Tony Woodward, medical director of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital explained, “Our ER is at 100 percent capacity at almost 24 hours a day and in the evening is up to 300 percent capacity, and what that means is, for patients who come for emergencies, [they] aren’t treated immediately”. Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio is one of many hospitals caring for patients from other states that lack the capacity to treat them. “We’ve had requests as far away as Virginia and Missouri…and we’ve had to say no to those other hospitals in faraway states so that we can optimize our ability to care for patients inside the state of Ohio”, said chief medical officer Dr. Rustin Morse.
This dire situation, exacerbated by widespread staffing shortages, prompted children’s healthcare providers to call for emergency federal funding. “These unprecedented levels of RSV happening with growing flu rates, ongoing high numbers of children in mental health crisis and serious workforce shortages are combining to stretch pediatric care capacity at the hospital and community level to the breaking point”.