Hospitals in Johnson County are bracing for a potentially heavy respiratory illness season as the wider Kansas City metro sees surges of seasonal viral illnesses that had receded the last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What to look for: The flu and RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, share a number of symptoms in common, as they also do with COVID-19.
- Some of those shared symptoms include coughing, a runny or stuffy nose, fever, shortness of breath and loss of appetite.
- However, RSV is more common among young children and infants — although it can also infect older children and adults.
- According to the CDC, those most at risk when infected with the flu or RSV are generally young children and older adults.
Driving the news: Across the board, hospitals in Johnson County and the Kansas City area are reporting sharp increases in flu and RSV cases.
- Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy has reported 400 positive RSV tests at its facilities in the last two weeks — which includes the Children’s Mercy Blue Valley urgent care clinic in south Overland Park, in addition to Children’s Mercy’s Kansas City hospitals and primary care clinic.
- The University of Kansas Health System has also seen an increase in positive tests for both RSV and the flu in the last two weeks, most of which have come from clinics.
- University of Kansas medical director Dr. Dana Hawkinson said 10 adults have been hospitalized with the flu there in the last two weeks.
- AdventHealth Shawnee Mission also says it currently has three inpatients with the flu and eight COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday.
State of play: Combined with ongoing spread of COVID-19, local doctors and health officials are expecting this cold and flu season to produce more illness than usual.
- Dr. Gabriel Schifman of Overland Park Regional Medical Center said that hospital has seen a nearly 100% increase in patient volume over the past few weeks from viral illnesses.
- That is partly due, he says, to a decrease in COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking that may have helped prevent people from getting sick the last few years, as well as younger children being exposed to viral illnesses from in-person daycare and school for the first time.
- “It’s just kind of a perfect storm,” Schifman said. “We have to catch up with all the viruses that our bodies are used to getting and fighting. It’s all here, and it’s all going to have to kind of run through the community.”
How to protect yourself and your kids
While viral infections aren’t usually treatable outside of over-the-counter medication, there are still precautions people can take to avoid getting sick.
- Schifman said getting a flu shot is one important step, in addition to continuing to wear masks or staying home if you are feeling sick, as well as washing your hands regularly.
- Kids and adults with more minor symptoms can get help at urgent care clinics, but if younger kids are exhibiting signs of distress, such as taking more than 60 breaths per minute or being unable to feed through a bottle, Schifman said that could mean it’s time to take them to the emergency room.
Key quote: “The best thing to do is, like we did with COVID, limit exposure the best you can,” Schifman said. “Hand washing, covering your sneeze, all the stuff that we know helps prevent any colds or prevents the spread of these viruses, especially in school and daycare settings.”