November 27, 2022

Chicago-area hospitals are filling up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, with some days reporting no beds available to treat seriously ill children as flu and RSV cases rise.

“Hospitals and clinics are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people suffering from respiratory illnesses such as influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19,” said the DuPage County Health Department in a statement on Tuesday. “Children are being particularly affected, with more children with serious illnesses seeking care in hospitals with some hours waiting to be treated. Some even need to be transferred to another health facility.”

The county said “there are days when there are no beds open for seriously ill children at the hospitals that serve the nearly 1 million residents of DuPage County.”

“RSV is not a new virus. Influenza is not a new virus. But we are seeing both early cases and more severe cases,” Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, told NBC Chicago. “And yes, we’re worried because… we’re going to get together, we’re going to spend more time indoors than outside. All of which makes us worry that this is going to get worse before it gets better.”

At the same time, the Aurora Health attorney said all of its facilities have implemented a “limited visitor policy” as they work to “reduce the spread of COVID, influenza and other seasonal illnesses.”

A hospital spokesperson told NBC Chicago that the move was due to “the substantial increase in flu activity.”

Health experts in Chicago and around the country have been expressing concern since October that an “explosion” of respiratory viruses (RSV, flu and COVID) will begin to appear this fall and winter, as the cases of each continue to rise.

As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said “seasonal flu activity is high across the country,” with elevated levels in Illinois.

“We continue to see an increase in flu activity, and with that comes an increase in outpatient clinic visits, emergency room visits and children hospitalized for flu-like illnesses,” said last week the Dr. Jennifer Seo of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The Illinois Department of Public Health told NBC Chicago on Tuesday that pediatric ICU bed availability was down to just 5 percent statewide.

“We’re kind of overwhelmed by RSV cases. We’re probably three to five times our usual normal cases,” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, director of operations for the Cook County Department of Public Health.

But flu cases are also on the rise in many hospitals, and some experts believe the current flu strain is hitting children and the elderly harder than previous strains.

According to the IDPH, the current most circulating flu strain in the state is H3, and some cases have been found to be H3N2. A similar trend is being reported nationally.

Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the strain has historically been associated with more severe flu seasons for children and the elderly.

Chicago’s top doctor expressed concern that hospitals will be stretched thin with the latest surge in illnesses.

“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 on the rise right now just because it’s respiratory virus season,” said Dr Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “If we see a significant increase, and we certainly will see an increase in flu and COVID, and especially for children, you know, we might run out of good hospital capacity.”

While Arwady noted that children were not as affected by COVID, they are particularly affected by the flu and RSV.

Your advice for holiday gatherings?

Experts are pushing for continued vaccination against both the flu and COVID.

“If you’re somebody who’s concerned, if you have a young child in particular and you’re concerned about RSV, definitely wash your hands, if kids can wear a mask, anybody if you have cold symptoms. -like the symptoms, like please put on a mask… It’s about keeping your germs to yourself, regardless of whether it’s COVID,” Arwady said. “But it’s also about keeping the kids home if they’re really unwell, right? The number one rule, stay home when you’re sick, still applies. And anything you can do around the ventilation So having windows Open a little even on Thanksgiving, if you’re going somewhere warmer for Thanksgiving, doing it outside, like these are things that limit risk not only for COVID, but for all other respiratory viruses.”

He added that getting a COVID test before meeting, especially if you have cold-like symptoms, could also help.

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