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RSV, flu have pediatric ICUs at critical levels across Illinois

Illinois doctors swamped with spike in pediatric flu, RSV cases
Illinois doctors swamped with spike in pediatric flu, RSV cases 02:34

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Doctors are warning families to be careful with their Thanksgiving plans because of a spike in pediatric flu and continued RSV infections.

RSV – or respiratory syncytial virus – is the respiratory virus that is most serious in young children. Pediatric ICU beds are still at critical levels across the state. 

As CBS 2's Tara Molina reported Monday, the emergency room at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital saw a huge influx in patients this past weekend on account of both viral infections.

"Every parent should be hyper aware this is a very real virus that's hitting harder this year," Kaelyn Bogucki, whose child was hospitalized with RSV, told us in October. 

Hospitals reach capacity, filled with children with flu and RSV 02:09

With RSV, the respiratory virus most serious in young kids, continuing to plague hospitals and pediatric wards - flu is now adding to the spike right now across the area. Doctors tell us they're swamped. 

A spokesperson for Cook County's Department of Public Health said ER visits for influenza-like illness just surpassed COVID-like illness for the first time since March of 2020:

"CCDPH continues to monitor respiratory viruses including COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. While there are positive signs including declining emergency room visits for RSV, the hospital system remains stressed, with very low pediatric bed availability across the region. Emergency room visits for influenza-like illness surpassed those for COVID-like illness for the first time since March of 2020. If current trends continue, this year is expected to be the most severe influenza season this decade. CCDPH urges all eligible suburban Cook County residents to get vaccinated to prevent the flu and boost up to prevent COVID-19. Please visit for more information."

The Chicago Department of Public Health released this statement:

"Overall, pediatric providers are still seeing high volumes of patients for respiratory illnesses. While it appears RSV cases may be declining, we are now seeing a rise in influenza. We urge all Chicagoans 6 months and older to get the flu vaccine.

"Here is some data from our Respiratory Virus Weekly Surveillance Report (data for the week ending November 12, 2022):

  • The percent of emergency department visits in children <5 years old due to RSV has decreased from 9.2% to 8.5%. 
  • The test positivity for RSV has decreased from 17.4% to 14.7%.
  • The weekly number of pediatric admissions for RSV has decreased for the third consecutive week. 
  • Influenza activity continues to increase and is above levels of peak activity during the 2021-2022 season."

The Illinois Department of Public Health said statewide, pediatric bed availability has dropped to 5 percent. The IDPH prefers capacity to be at 20 percent.

Amongst specific hospitals, Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge also reached capacity this past weekend. But a spokesperson told us patients were not turned away. Advocate Children's is now seeing a decline in RSV – or respiratory syncytial virus – but flu there is ramping way up:

"Once again this weekend, Advocate Children's Hospital-Park Ridge was 'full' due to the respiratory surge, but no patients were turned away.  While RSV has begun to decline, pediatric flu continues to climb.  The situation this weekend was not much different than it has been in several weeks."

NorthShore hospital system seeing a similar spike. A spokesperson said they have been at capacity more so than usual the past two months - seeing a rise in cases of RSV flu.

"We have a dedicated pediatric unit at Evanston Hospital with 11 beds (we do not have a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit).

"We have been at capacity more so than usual the past two months, seeing a rise in cases of RSV as well as influenza A – similar to other systems across the state as reported to IDPH."

We talked to a doctor who shared information she says families need ahead of Thanksgiving celebrations. Dr. Allison Bartlett of UChicago Medicine broke down the situation at Comer.

"We were at capacity for I think 67 days in a row," she said. "We had a little breather this weekend, but it has just been absolutely unparalleled in how busy that we have been."

But even with that little breather this weekend, the emergency room at Comer saw huge numbers - a mix of RSV and flu cases.

Thankfully, most of those patients did not need to be admitted to the hospital, but Dr. Bartlett told us parents should keep these spikes in mind heading into Thanksgiving.

"It's time to think about the plans that you have, and how to can keep it as safe as possible," Bartlett said. "Certainly, people with respiratory virus symptoms should be discouraged from attending."

The doctors we talked to Monday emphasized the importance of getting both flu shots and COVID boosters, with RSV and flu spiking now. Coming up at 6, we will have more from city and county health officials on this spread. 

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