NORFOLK, Va. — It’s only the beginning of November and hospitals across the country are seeing a surge in patients with respiratory illnesses.
Leaders with the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters say they are seeing an increase in patients that they haven’t seen since some of the highest peaks of COVID-19.
"It’s affecting our emergency rooms, urgent cares, our pediatric practices," said Dr. Christopher Foley, CHKD's Chief Medical Officer.
Flu, COVID-19, and the main player, RSV.
According to the CDC, RSV infections have spiked almost 70% over the last four weeks and are appearing earlier than usual.
CHKD said the reason for the increase is young children who were sheltered from common bugs during COVID lockdowns are now encountering viruses their immune systems might not be prepared to fight.
However, Foley said just because your child is sick, doesn’t mean you need to rush to the ER.
"These patients are often not that sick. Many times they can be cared for at home," he said.
Foley said the keys to treating patients at home are lots of fluids, rest, and acetaminophen like Tylenol.
The CDC reports most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two.
However, he said if your child is having difficulty breathing, turning blue or gray, having pauses in their breathing, high fever, difficulty staying awake or refusing to eat or drink, that's when you should head to the ER.
"If you happen to go to the emergency room, or the urgent cares, or even your pediatric practice, you may have to wait a long time to be seen."
Hospital leaders emphasize the sickest children will be seen first, no matter what order patients arrive in.
Along with a surge of patients, hospitals -- including CHKD -- are still dealing with staffing shortages, so they are asking for patience.
While RSV is the largest culprit in this surge, doctors are warning this flu season could be the most severe we've seen in years. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little-to-no flu activity because of masking and social distancing.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported their first death for the 2022-2023 flu season. A child in the eastern part of the state died from complications associated with the respiratory illness. NCDHHS said this is the state's first pediatric flu death since February 2020.
"We extend our deepest sympathies to this child’s family on this heartbreaking and tragic loss," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore.
Last week, the CDC reported flu-related hospitalizations are the highest in over a decade for this point in the season.
Doctors are urging parents to get their children vaccinated, particularly against COVID-19 and the flu, to protect themselves and to help prevent an already strained healthcare system from becoming overburdened.
Among U.S. kids under age 5, RSV typically leads to 58,000 hospitalizations and up to 500 deaths in a year.
For adults 65 and older, RSV causes 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths yearly.