Currently, according to the hospital system’s website, ER wait times are over three hours at all children’s hospitals in Atlanta.
Georgia and Washington, DC are both reporting “high” influenza activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s influenza activity map. Most states across the country are currently experiencing low influenza activity.
“We have been extremely busy. Influenza, RSV and other respiratory viruses at the same time. Not a lot of COVID right now,” said Dr. Hugo Scornik, a Conyers pediatrician and former president of the Georgian chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We haven’t had bad flu seasons in the last couple of years due to masking etc, but I fear we are facing a severe season this year. All children 6 months and older should get the flu shot as soon as possible to prevent a serious case of flu.
In September, Children’s Healthcare at Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta expanded its emergency room with a tent erected in a parking lot to accommodate more patients.
A spokesperson for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said other healthcare systems in the region are also feeling the stress of similar patient influxes.
The flu can circulate year-round in the United States, but is most active during the winter. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as people stayed home and wore masks, influenza activity nearly disappeared. Fewer flu cases meant fewer people developed immunity and many people, especially young children, did not develop immunity because they were not exposed to the diseases. Now, amid loosening COVID-19 precautions, doctors are preparing for a particularly severe season that is already taking hold. Another troubling indicator of what lies ahead: Australia is nearing the end of its worst season in five years, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Aged Care. The southern hemisphere is often a harbinger of the severity of the flu the United States will experience.
Respiratory illnesses, including the flu, are particularly dangerous for people 65 and older, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions such as heart and lung disease.
Georgia’s Ministry of Public Health reports that 4.9% of patient visits to doctors were for flu or flu-like illnesses in the week ending October 1, the most recent week for which figures are available. . There have been no flu-related deaths so far this season. Over the past two years, the percentage of flu visits has even fallen below the baseline of 3.1%. The 2017-18 flu season was one of the most brutal in years, with nearly 150 deaths in Georgia and more than 3,000 people hospitalized in the Atlanta metro area.
Atlanta pediatrician Dr. Joy Maxey also said her practice is seeing an increase in cases of RSV and other respiratory viruses, with influenza cases increasing dramatically over the past two weeks. She recommends that parents work harder on the basics: getting a flu shot, good nutrition, eight hours of quality sleep each night, and good hand hygiene. For those who do get sick, she said they should stay home and watch for symptoms.
Scornik said danger signs for people with the flu include difficulty breathing and extreme lethargy. The development of a new rash is also concerning. “These are reasons to seek immediate medical attention,” he said.
Eboni Pyron, a Clayton County relative, said she and her injured son waited six hours one day this week to be seen by an ER doctor at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Hughes Spalding.
Pyron said the emergency department waiting room was “very crowded” with children suffering from fevers and flu-like symptoms. The couple left when they were finally admitted to a room only to be told there were no doctors available to see them. Pyron said she wished she had been told to just go to another hospital.
“As parents, it was absolutely terrifying to know that your baby might need to be hospitalized due to [RSV]said Kristen Lawson, a parent who recently took her daughter to a Dacula urgent care center for treatment for the virus, in a text to AJC.
In an interview on a social media messenger, Lawson said urgent care doctors told her that if her daughter’s condition worsened, she should go to the nearest hospital, Scottish Rite.
“[The doctors] told us to watch out for the bruise around her mouth, which would mean she’s not getting enough oxygen,” Lawson said. She said she was “instantly in panic mode” because she lives in Winder, an hour’s drive from the hospital.
Pyron expressed similar frustrations. The nearest children’s hospital is 30-35 minutes from her home, depending on traffic, and she knows parents who have had to take time off from work to accommodate the longer wait times than usual in the emergency room.
“Jobs don’t care, they expect you to be there,” Pyron said. “It’s stressful.”
Pyron’s son is stable, but she plans to get him to urgent care as soon as she can. Although Lawson’s daughter avoided hospitalization, she wasn’t off the hook yet, either.
“There have been many sleepless nights watching her and making sure she is breathing well and free of mucus. It’s awful knowing this can last up to two weeks,” Lawson wrote. There’s nothing worse than seeing your baby in pain and there’s not much you can do to make him feel better.”
Tips for staying safe this flu season
Stay up to date on vaccines and reminders. Get your annual flu shot and your COVID-19 shot and booster (if eligible). According to the CDC, COVID vaccines can be given at the same time as an annual flu shot.
To schedule a vaccine, go to https://www.vaccines.gov/find-vaccines/
Stay home when you are sick. If you must go out in public, wear a mask until symptoms improve.
Cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your arm.
Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating and after coughing or sneezing.
SOURCE: Atlanta Children’s Health Care