Increase in RSV, flu cases placing high demands on Ohio hospitals

An increase in RSV and flu-related hospitalizations are placing high demands on Ohio hospitals, especially children’s hospitals.

The state has seen a significant increase in RSV cases since October and is now starting to see flu cases spike, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

“This increase, while dramatic, has been in line with what we’ve seen across the nation,” he said. “...The robust of return of RSV and influenza is not entirely unexpected given the similar pattern reported in the southern hemisphere, which just emerged from its winter.”

Vanderhoff noted the increased demand on hospitals, paired with staffing shortages, is leading to longer wait times in emergency departments.

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RSV typically starts with cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, cough or congestion, said Dr. Patty Manning-Courtney, chief of staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. If a child is showing symptoms of RSV, they should be kept home from school or daycare.

While most RSV cases resolve on their own, young children, older adults with chronic medical conditions and those with compromised immune systems are at risk for more severe illness.

Parents should pay particularly close attention to babies, Vanderhoff said, and should seek emergency care if they notice unusually fast breathing, ribs pulling with each breath, a bluish color to the baby’s lips or face or a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher.

Dr. Rustin Morse, chief medical officer of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said this year has been difficult for hospitals because RSV cases increased earlier and the volume is higher than previous years.

“We are all experiencing exceptionally high volumes in our emergency departments, exceptionally high volumes in our pediatric ICUs and exceptionally high volumes on the floor for admitted patients,” he said.

As a result, hospitals are expanding urgent care and emergency department capacity to care for more patients and cancelling scheduled surgeries that can be postponed, Morse said. Hospitals in Ohio have also had to turn down transfer patients from as far as Virginia and Missouri.

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With winter and the holiday season approaching, Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of infection control at University Hospitals and UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, encouraged families to stay up-to-date on the COVID-19 vaccine and to get flu shots.

“The reason we want to be getting the [flu] shot this year is to protect ourselves and our children,” she said. “It’s hard for people to realize, but we do see children die of the flu. This is really a vaccine preventable disease and so we want to be doing everything we can to protect our children and ourselves.”

Getting vaccinated also decreases the risk of severe illness and helps make sure hospitals have beds available to take care of other patients, Hoyen added.

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