Washington hospitals already struggling with capacity grapple with RSV, flu season

Hospitals are feeling the stress of a one-two punch of RSV and influenza season.

According to the Washington Department of Health (DOH), hospital capacity overall is stretched – but the pressure is coming earlier than normal, and a more severe respiratory virus season is impacting hospital care.

In Whatcom County, doctors are sounding the alarm that sick children need to be kept home from school as illness is quickly spreading. In addition to a large increase in illnesses hitting school-aged children, they’re seeing a shortage of Tylenol and ibuprofen at local pharmacies.

Dr. Amy Harley, co-health officer for Whatcom County Health Department said the hospital bed shortage is especially concerning.

"We’re again in a situation where there might not be enough hospital beds for those who need care, and this is especially concerning when we consider very young, critically ill children," said Dr. Harley.

The King County Health Department tracks testing for respiratory illnesses. Much like Whatcom County, data shows that both RSV infections and influenza tests are coming back positive at both higher volume, and at a higher rate.

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Pierce and Snohomish counties didn’t offer specific numbers, but both health departments noted a rise in respiratory infections around the state.

Similarly, the Washington State Medical Association has put out a warning urging people to take preventative steps to avoid the emergency room.

Those strategies include:

  • Getting vaccinated for influenza and COVID-19
  • Washing your hands with soap and water regularly, and ensuring you disinfect high-touch surfaces
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing, preferably with an elbow or Kleenex
  • Wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings
  • Keep children home if they show moderate symptoms of illness (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, congestion, runny nose or sore throat)

Doctors with the DOH say that parents should also consider what level of care their children need.

Chief Science Officer Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett noted that most doctor’s offices and medical providers have nurse lines that may be able to advise patients on whether they need to be seen by a doctor, or if they can remain at home with at-home care. He also noted that telehealth visits could be an option.

RELATED: American Academy of Pediatrics urges Biden administration to declare emergency over 'unprecedented' RSV surge

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When it comes to treating symptoms at home, Mary Bridge Children's Hospital published a list of options for both at-home treatment and warning signs that a child needs medical care.

The big things to watch for that require advanced medical care: breathing trouble, dehydration and pain/second infections. For a checklist of what to watch for, visit the hospital website here.