Children's hospitals in the Triangle near full capacity due to viral illnesses

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Thursday, December 15, 2022
Children's hospitals near capacity as illnesses spike
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Sick season continues to ramp up across the Triangle. Area hospitals report high volume of pediatric patients coming in with several different infections.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Sick season continues to ramp up across the Triangle. Area hospitals report high volume of pediatric patients coming in with several different infections.

Runny noses, coughing and other basic symptoms are nothing new in for parents in the fall and winter. However, many parents are now having to watch their children deal with symptoms so severe they require a stay in the intensive care unit at the hospital. This has resulted in hospital systems such as UNC Health and WakeMed to be at full capacity in December.

"More recently, we've been seeing a lot more children with influenza coming in and those are often older kids, kids who are in school who are coming in," UNC Health's Dr. Zach Willis said. "Many of them have been very sick and requiring ICU level care for severe pneumonia."

Willis, a pediatric infectious disease physician, said another concern is the uptick in invasive group A strep infections at children's hospitals nationwide, including in Texas and Arizona.

"Children who have influenza, they can get a secondary infection with Group A strep, which is the bacteria that causes a strep throat, or staph aureus, or pneumococcus, which is the most common cause of ear infections and pneumonia in children," Willis said. "Those secondary infections after influenza can be quite severe ... and we have started to see that too."

At WakeMed Children's Hospital, the high volume of pediatric patients with various viral illnesses has impacted their bed capacity.

"What we're really seeing now is just really kind of a vegetable soup," Dr. Karen Chilton said.

"I think of a lot of typical winter viral illnesses including GI illnesses, a lot of vomiting and diarrhea, the flu of course, which we know is circulating pretty heavily in our community right now. And then other respiratory viruses as well."

For Victoria Parker, who has a 6-year-old son, she said thankfully, she's not too concerned but remains on the alert.

"I'm super grateful for the school that he goes to, it's a small classroom," Parker said. "This time of the year does get rough. With kids, you have to really stay on top of them with washing their hands, they'll have snot running down, that kind of thing, but making sure they're blowing their noses."

Chilton advised parents to look out for the following signs during respiratory viral season which depends a lot on the child's age.

"For babies, one of the first signs that they're having difficulty breathing, or one of the most significant things that parents might see is difficulty feeding," Chilton said. "For older kids, it would be high persistent fevers ... and then certainly in any age child, decreased responsiveness, a baby or child who seems less responsive to you, or overly lethargic. Those kiddos you want to have evaluated much more quickly."

Chilton added another thing to look out for this time of the year is increased signs of depression and anxiety.

"It's not uncommon for us to see an increase in acute mental health evaluations also during this time of the year," Chilton said. "We are seeing that and that is adding somewhat to our volumes. This is often a difficult time of year for many families, and kids are not immune to that."