Local hospitals report respiratory cases soaring
Hospitals and health care providers in the region are handling an onslaught of respiratory infections associated with seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which typically affects children.
At the same time, COVID-19 continues to drive people to emergency rooms, and, in a limited number of cases, hospital beds.
“We’re seeing a tremendous amount of respiratory infection,” Dr. Kevin Torres, associate chief medical officer at New London’s Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, said Wednesday. “We’re still seeing COVID as well as influenza and RSV in a lot of our children, even some adults. It’s a typical virus but we’re seeing it a lot earlier than usual.”
RSV cases normally show up during the winter months.
“To see it early this year and have all these respiratory infections at the same time is a bit overwhelming,” Torres said.
Dr. Kyle McClaine, chief of emergency services at Backus Hospital in Norwich and the Plainfield Emergency Care Center, said respiratory-infection cases are up at Backus, too, their volume approximating what the hospital typically sees in midwinter. He noted that some pediatric hospitals in the state have been swamped.
The state Department of Public Health issued an alert to that effect late last month.
McClaine said the increase in flu and RSV cases this year had been expected due to the relaxing of COVID-19 protocols that had all but eliminated the spread of respiratory infections the past two years. Handwashing, social distancing and masking largely prevented kids from getting the disease, he said.
“As people got back to school and had more social interaction, these things came back,” McClaine said. “People’s immune systems are weaker, and (flu) vaccinations have fallen off.”
RSV, for which no vaccine exists, afflicts almost all children by their second birthday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC advises that parents should seek care for a child who has the virus and is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids or is experiencing worsening symptoms.
Both Torres and McClaine said those who have yet to get a flu shot or the bivalent COVID-19 booster should do so as soon as possible. A patient can receive both vaccinations during the same appointment. Flu vaccines are recommended for children as young as 6 months and for all adults, including pregnant women.
“This is a great time to get it,” Torres said of the flu shot. “There’s plenty of it around. Go to any local pharmacy. A lot of doctor’s offices have them, too.”
McClaine said people who get a flu shot in the next few days will develop antibodies that can afford them protection in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Avoiding the flu, he said, “comes down to the lessons we learned from COVID ― handwashing, social distancing, masking.”
Torres said it can be hard to tell which respiratory illness a person has since the symptoms associated with the flu, RSV and COVID-19 are similar and include fever, a runny nose and body aches. In any case, a person who isn’t feeling well should stay home from school or work, drink plenty of liquids and rest. A person should seek medical attention if symptoms persist.
Both L+M and Backus continue to see a steady stream of COVID-19 patients in their emergency rooms. At L+M, a small percentage of the patients are admitted, with few requiring intensive care, according to Torres.
McClaine said Backus still has 10 to 15 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on any given day.