Children’s Healthcare reported cases of seasonal influenza, rhinovirus, enterovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Some people arrive at the emergency room with shortness of breath and gasping into their stomach, a sign of respiratory distress. Some people were lethargic and showed signs of dehydration.
But doctors say the typical winter surge in respiratory illness doesn’t fully explain why pediatric beds are now so full. Children with other illnesses and injuries were also admitted to the hospital for reasons that were less clear.
Under normal conditions, intensive care units for adults and children typically run at about 70% to 80% of their capacity, which allows hospitals to operate efficiently And still leave room for other patients.Hospitals can add ICU beds Deal with surges, but often the biggest challenge is staffing.
The overall capacity of the hospital can also affect whether a full ICU is a problem.Anna Adams, executive vice president of external affairs for the Hospital Association of Georgia, said if overall hospitalizations were much lower than hospitals ICU capacity, easier to adjust staffing and other resources.
But overall, 86 percent of Georgia’s hospital beds are full, according to federal data, which is also unusually high.
“The lack of (pediatric) ICU beds in the state is worrying, kind of scary,” said Dr. Hugo Scornik, a local pediatrician and past president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He said his pediatric practice in Conyers remains busy. He saw a slight drop in flu cases but a slight rise in COVID-19 cases. He also saw an increase in strep cases and “many people with fevers, colds and coughs from other viruses”.
Rhinoviruses and enteroviruses are among the causes of the common cold in healthy adults, but in children they can be serious. Symptoms of RSV often look like a common cold and may include a runny nose, congestion and fever. But in some cases, RSV can become dangerous, especially in infants and the elderly, causing complications such as breathing difficulties and pneumonia.
Intensive care units are also full on the Georgia coast, where doctors are noticing more than just the virus at work.Dr. Mike Bossak, who supervises pediatricians at Willett Children’s Hospital Savannah, part of Savannah Memorial Health’s safety net, said Multiple virus surges appear to be declining.
“The RSV numbers are looking good; the flu numbers have peaked and are going down,” Bossak said. “But I think in a general sense, everyone is feeling the pinch of having more seriously ill patients.”
In addition to respiratory illnesses, kids have become more active this fall, so some ER visits have been related to injuries, he said. “I think it’s just kids getting out there, and more than ever,” he said. “I think even during the pandemic … everybody’s indoors. Now we’re seeing all these kids falling off things, jumping off things, running around,” Bosak said .
“We’ve been sounding the alarm for weeks,” said Dr. Felipe Lobelo, an epidemiologist at Kaiser Medical Institution in Georgia. “It’s kind of like a tsunami, wave after wave. The waves of infections are driven by different viruses. There’s a lag between when kids get infected and when they get sick and when they end up in hospitals and ICUs.”
The Southeast is being hit this year by a particularly severe strain of seasonal flu that is often associated with severe illness and hospitalizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“Some people don’t realize that influenza can be a very serious illness,” Scornik said. “Yes, most people get a fever and body aches and recover in a few days. But flu can cause serious complications. Flu can cause encephalitis, which is when your brain doesn’t work properly. It can cause seizures. …the most common complication was pneumonia.”
In Georgia, only about 20% of the flu-eligible population has been vaccinated so far this season, according to data obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month from the state Department of Public Health.According to the latest CDC data, only 8.1% of people in Georgia who were age-eligible for the updated bivalent COVID booster received one Wednesday.
The flu shot can prevent infection, and in people who still have the flu, getting vaccinated can reduce the severity of the disease. The same goes for COVID vaccines and boosters, which can help prevent serious outcomes like hospitalization and death.
Lobelo, the father of two young children, including a newborn, said the current elevated levels of the virus are causing his family to take more precautions and think carefully about when to go to an urgent care center or emergency room.
“We may have had a common cold in our family, and luckily our kids didn’t get sick,” Lobelo said. “In another situation, we might be more inclined to send an 8-year-old with a cough to the doctor. But it makes you wonder if you should go to the emergency room or pediatric urgent care when everyone is sick.”
Lobelo said he went without a mask on numerous occasions for most of the year, but recently started wearing one in crowds.
“As much as people don’t want to hear, every family’s situation is different,” Lobelo said. “You want to put yourself in a position to reduce risk, but understand that you’re never going to zero.”
“I would advise people to rather be cautious right now,” he said.
Data journalist Stephanie Lamm contributed to this report