BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There’s a new alert from the Erie County Health Department about a triple threat of respiratory illness in children and its happening ahead of schedule.
Winter is coming and doctors say a surge in pediatric respiratory illnesses will follow. In fact, the region is already seeing a spike in cases of flu and RSV. Medical experts say there is also a threat of a COVID-19 spike too. According to the Erie County Health Department, 190 patients visited the Oishei Children’s Hospital emergency room per day last week. According to New York State data, flu cases are on the rise too.
“This is one of the most severe flu and respiratory illness seasons that we have seen in a very, very long time and it is occurring very, very early,” Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner, told News 4.
This triple wave is cause for concern for an already strain hospital system. Beds are already filling at major hospitals in early November.
“This wave of infections we’re anticipating moving forward during this respiratory virus season is going to put a tremendous strain on our healthcare system. Not only will there potentially be a strain in the number of available beds, but a number of staff are going to be infected as well,” Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo, said.
There’s no treatment or vaccination for RSV. It’s not just children who are at risk. Vulnerable adults can contract the virus, too.
“Both children and adults are going to be at risk, particularly young children and our most vulnerable adults that are both older, immunocompromised and with significant underlying diseases,” Dr. Russo continued.
Doctors say masks and social distancing may be the best option for now and that small mitigation strategies can prevent larger spread. They say these small changes won’t be forever.
“We all want to get back to normal and we also have to respect the severity of the illnesses that are at high levels that are circulating in our community,” Dr. Burstein added.
Handwashing, staying home when sick, coughing or sneezing into your arm and staying up-to-date on vaccinations are key components to staying healthy this winter, according to Dr. Russo and Dr. Burstein. If your child is sick, they recommend discussing treatment options with your child’s pediatrician before you take them to an already crowded emergency room.
As for finding more information online, Dr. Burstein warns there is a lot of confusing data, but she suggests using this American Academy of Pediatrics website, which answers many questions for parents.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.