Hospitals in the Tri-Cities are full and wait times for emergency care are long as the region is hit by a tripledemic of influenza, RSV and COVID-19.
In addition, drugs that help treat these respiratory diseases are rare.
“We are concerned about the activity we are seeing,” said Dr. Larry Jecha, acting health officer for Benton and Franklin counties. “It’s different from years past.”
COVID-19 was steadily declining in the Tri-Cities area when respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and influenza virus emerged six to eight weeks earlier, he said.
“The flu is hitting us really hard and causing problems for our elderly population and our children,” Dr. Matthew Lamb, medical director of the Lourdes emergency room in Pasco, said at a district press conference. Benton Franklin Sanitary this week. .
Now, there are indications that COVID-19, which has been at a steady rate, could also be on the rise.
“We are facing a respiratory virus crisis,” said Benton Franklin Health District public health nurse Heather Hill.
The crisis is not unique to the Tri-Cities, but is creating nationwide shortages of fever medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen.
There is also a shortage of Tamiflu, a prescription drug that can ease flu symptoms if taken within two days of symptom onset, in the Tri-Cities and elsewhere.
The health district has requested supplies from the national stockpile, Hill said.
Doctors said hospitals are carefully monitoring their supplies of drugs needed by patients with respiratory illnesses, as well as supplies of personal protective and other equipment.
Tri-Cities hospitals under stress
“Our health care system is under strain,” said Dr. John Matheson, medical director of emergency services at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
“We’re struggling to see everyone, certainly in the time frame we’d like,” he said.
Full waiting rooms and longer-than-usual waits are also a problem at Pasco and Kennewick hospitals and Tri-Cities urgent care centers.
Delays in hospital emergency care are compounded by a shortage of available hospital beds, resulting in patients admitted to Tri-Cities hospitals sometimes being housed in the emergency room until a bed becomes available. .
With respiratory illnesses high across the state, there are delays as Tri-City hospitals have to move patients to other hospitals, such as Seattle, for a higher level of care, Emily Volland said, Kadlec spokesperson.
At this time, none of the Tri-City hospitals have restricted visits to reduce the spread of respiratory disease in hospitals.
It’s a balancing act, with hospitals realizing the benefit of having their family there to support them, Matheson said.
Influenza and RSV in the Tri-Cities
Schools are starting to see higher absenteeism rates, a seasonal indication that the flu is spreading in the community, Jecha said.
RSV has begun to decline nationwide and may also begin to decline in western Washington, he said.
But the number of cases continues to climb in the Tri-Cities.
The virus is common, but can cause serious illness in young children exposed to it for the first time and in the elderly. There is no vaccine against RSV.
The Washington State Department of Health reports that the number of flu and flu-like illnesses in the state is “very high.”
So far this season, 34 adults and three children in Washington state have come down with the flu. This includes a child under 5 years old. Most of the deaths occur in older adults, including 14 in those 65 and over.
Since fever is a symptom of both influenza and RSV, as well as COVID-19, the health district has prepared a guide for monitoring temperatures, reducing fevers and when to call a doctor. It is published on bfhd.wa.gov.
COVID in the three cities
No flu deaths have been reported in the Tri-Cities area.
However, there has been one additional death from COVID-19 reported by the Benton Franklin Health District in its weekly COVID-19 update.
An octogenarian from Benton County has died, bringing the total number of COVID deaths in the two counties since the start of the pandemic to 743.
Public health officials are seeing an increase in genetic material from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in wastewater samples taken from municipal plants in Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland.
The concentration of coronavirus in sewage is now somewhat higher than in the wave of COVID cases of the omicron virus earlier this year. And it is approaching the peak of cases seen this summer with a new omicron subvariant.
Stop the spread of the Tri-Cities
Health care officials are urging people to stay home if they are sick to reduce the spread of infections.
And, please, please get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu, doctors have urged.
“They work,” Jecha said.
Both vaccines help prevent disease or may lessen the severity of disease, which could prevent hospitalization or death for those most at risk.
Only anecdotal information was available on how many people in the Tri-Cities are getting their flu shots this season.
Hill says it appears for a second year in a row fewer people are getting their flu shot.
Other measures to prevent the spread of respiratory infections include washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and wearing a face mask when appropriate.
Seattle and King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin recommended Friday that residents resume wearing masks in indoor public spaces.
When to go to hospital
Most people with symptoms of respiratory illness should see their GP or a walk-in or emergency care center to allow hospital ERs to focus on the most seriously ill patients, doctors said during Thursday’s press conference.
Those patients include not only the most serious cases of respiratory illnesses, but also people needing urgent treatment for heart attacks, strokes and car accidents, doctors from Tri-City hospitals said.
However, don’t hesitate to go to a hospital emergency room for symptoms such as shortness of breath, said Dr. Adam Smith, chief medical staff at Trios Health in Kennewick.
The Benton Franklin Health District says issues requiring emergency room treatment include:
▪ An injury or illness that threatens life or limb.
▪ Difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness or seizure.
▪ Intense abdominal pain, allergic reactions, burns or skin infections.
▪ High fever with persistent headache or dizziness.
▪ Dehydration or rapid heartbeat that does not slow down.
This story was originally published December 10, 2022 5:00 a.m.
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