Primary Children’s Hospital is full and delaying some surgeries due to RSV, flu surge. Here’s what a doctor says Utahns should be doing
Utah is now seeing the same rise in respiratory illnesses as other parts of the US
Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital postponed some scheduled surgeries and outpatient treatments Monday due to a surge in RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and flu cases that’s filling up the hospital and overwhelming pediatricians.
“Unfortunately, we’re beginning to experience the same problems that have been plaguing hospitals in the east, south and midwest recently,” Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah and director of epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital, said in a pre-recorded interview provided by the hospital.
Just as in other parts of the country, Pavia said Utah’s RSV cases have risen rapidly, reaching “levels equivalent to among our very worst years and still going up. On top of that, we’re seeing a steady and pretty rapid increase in influenza cases.”
The doctor said it’s the combination of RSV and the flu “happening at once that is really stretching the ability to find hospital beds for patients, to find nurses to take care of them and is overwhelming doctor’s offices.” COVID-19 cases are also increasing, he said, “one more straw on this already overloaded camel’s back.”
In a statement, Primary Children’s Hospital said the number of patients is “exceeding typical winter surge levels, and the hospital has been at or near capacity for several consecutive days,” citing a recent influx of patients with RSV. No specific numbers were available.
“To continue to provide excellent care, and to ensure that staffing and resources are best able to meet patient needs during this busy time, the hospital Monday delayed a handful of prescheduled, non-emergency inpatient surgeries and outpatient procedures,” the statement said.
Pavia said RSV “is the No. 1 reason for admission. It’s the No. 1 reason for children ending up in the ICU right now,” but flu cases have started climbing over the past several days. Both RSV and flu are making a comeback after all but disappearing during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to masking and other mitigation measures.
“The good news is that most kids do turn around pretty quickly with RSV. The problem is that many need oxygen support, and some of those need oxygen support in an intensive care setting. Some kids will get very, very sick with RSV and can get critically ill with that,” the doctor said.
Influenza is often more severe in children, he said, so when they’re “hospitalized with the flu, they’re often sicker and stay longer. So the worry we have is that the hospital is full to the brim.” Pavia said if the numbers increase as expected in the coming weeks, “then we really are going to be in a serious situation in terms of hospital capacity.”
He urged Utahns to take precautions to help stop the spread of the respiratory illnesses.
“There’s a lot you can do. It’s really, really important right now to not get sick,” the doctor said.
That means anyone 6 months or older should get an annual flu shot and be vaccinated against COVID-19, while those at least 5 years old should also get the updated COVID-19 booster shot. There is no vaccine yet for RSV, which predominantly affects infants less than a year old.
Infants, especially those under 6 months old, he said, should be kept away from anyone who could be sick.
“You want to protect those children from people who have cold symptoms and really from being around a lot of strangers. It’s really a good time to tell people, ‘No, you can’t come over and visit the baby,’” Pavia said, suggesting that caregivers with even just the sniffles may want to wear a mask around the child.
“It’s important to realize that when we get hit with this really large surge of influenza, RSV and COVID, that we start to run out of pediatric hospital beds, that our emergency departments become really full and doctor’s offices become overwhelmed,” he said.
But using preventative measures as simple as frequent hand washing can keep adults and children from getting sick, Pavia said. Utahns “can decrease this burden on the pediatric health care system. Because we are really reaching the limits of what we can do and there’s every chance the numbers are going to keep going up.”