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RSV, flu and COVID are putting stress on Inland Empire hospitals

Health experts agree that the unseasonably early surges of RSV cases, especially among children, are a consequence of lifting COVID-19 precautions, which served to protect the public from a variety of viruses.
RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

California hospitals are treating an influx of patients with a variety of respiratory viruses. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the secretary of California Health and Human Services, said the number of patients rivals some of the hardest moments of the pandemic. In the Inland Empire, lines are long at urgent care centers and hospitals are filling up.

Alysha Sturm’s son Hunter is almost two. Sturm said he got sick right after she enrolled him in daycare. Sturm said she thought Hunter had a run-of-the-mill cold, but he kept getting sicker. Eventually she took him to urgent care where they diagnosed him with RSV, which stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Hunter was admitted to the emergency room for some breathing treatments and sent home.

But Sturm said, after that, Hunter got so sick he could not get off the couch and stop eating or drinking any liquids. Sturm took him back to urgent care.

“Basically, they had told us, like, if we didn’t bring him back that he probably would’ve passed away. He was so bad,” said Sturm.

Hunter was so sick, he spent six days at Kaiser Hospital in Fontana.

Hospitals across the Inland Empire are busy right now. In an email, the medical director of Loma Linda Children’s Hospital, says their Pediatric ICU has been full for the past 2 months… mostly with RSV patients.

At Loma Linda, doctors transfer out several patients a day. Still, they’ve had to turn some away due to a lack of space and staffing.

RSV isn’t the only reason hospitals are full. Dr. Michael Sequeira with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health said COVID, the flu and RSV have created a triple threat.

“Our hospitalizations and deaths from influenza are the highest they've been in the last 10 years,” said Sequiera.

According to Sequiera, all the masking and isolation due to COVID prevented people from developing immunity to common respiratory viruses.

“There are a lot more people in the community that didn't, number one have influenza for two years, but also didn't get their flu shots for two years,” said Sequiera.

Between COVID, the flu and RSV, the strain on local hospitals is a big worry this winter due to staffing and space.

“We would actually like them [urgent cares] to be busy. Because a lot of patients don't need to go to the children's hospital or to the ERs,” said Sequiera.

While mild cases of these illnesses can be treated at home, Sequiera says they can be an emergency – especially RSV for young children. The most important thing with RSV is to watch for labored breathing. If your child is wheezing or their ribs and nostrils flare when they take a breath, seek medical attention.

If you suspect your child has RSV, emergency rooms test for it. Some primary care doctors and urgent care centers also test for RSV. If it is not an emergency, call ahead to ask about testing options.

Hunter is now doing better and his mom, Alysha Sturm, is thankful she took her son to urgent care.

“Always go with your gut feeling if you think… We know our babies best. And if we think something's wrong, go to the emergency room or go to urgent care,” said Sturm.

Sturm says her experience has been life-changing in more ways than one. She was going to school for radiology, but after seeing so many sick kids in the hospital, she now plans to study respiratory illnesses.