Nov 28, 2022 - News

RSV and flu driving record pediatric emergency visits in Utah

Illustration of a giant teddy bear taking up an entire hospital bed.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Flu and RSV, a respiratory illness, are spiking fast and early this year, filling Utah's pediatric hospital again after two difficult winters of COVID.

Driving the news: Emergency visits at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital "are setting records for the last decade at least," Dr. Per Gesteland, a pediatric hospitalist with Primary Children's and U of U Health, told Axios.

  • Most of those patients have RSV, a virus that's typically most serious among infants and young toddlers.
  • But flu case counts also are high, and COVID cases in emergency rooms statewide rose by nearly 12% last week, state data show.

By the numbers: Intermountain is tallying about 190 RSV cases per week, Gesteland said — "well above" last year's peak of about 140.

  • Kids' hospital visits for bronchiolitis — the set of breathing problems linked to RSV and other respiratory illnesses — are "at or above our historic peaks," Gesteland said.
  • About 1.5 in every 100,o00 Utahns were hospitalized for flu-like illnesses last week, which is a much higher late-November rate than during the five previous years, state data show.

What's next: Bronchiolitis numbers aren't slowing down, and flu cases are "pointing straight up," Gesteland said. "We're expecting to see a lot more flu, and it'll get worse before it starts to get better."

Zoom out: Flu and RSV have been pummeling hospitals nationally for weeks.

  • Winter viruses typically move east to west, Gesteland said, so Utah is likely early in its rise in cases.

Of note: Utah's COVID hospitalizations rose sharply last week after a gradual rise through most of November.

  • But at about 27 patients per day, COVID hospitalizations are much lower than they were at the same time in 2021 (62) and 2020 (94).

What to do: Gesteland said parents with sick babies and young toddlers should visit a pediatrician if the child isn't interactive or appears to be feeding poorly, with few wet diapers.

  • If the child is struggling to breathe — look for labored movement in the chest and abdomen, engaged neck muscles and any tinge of blue in the lips or tongue — head to the ER.

For all ages: There are antiviral treatments for flu and COVID, so getting tested could be helpful, especially for patients who have underlying health risks.


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