Doctors share when to go to the emergency room when sick with Flu or RSV

Published: Nov. 25, 2022 at 9:31 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Hospital leaders worry about RSV and flu cases rising in the next few weeks after holiday gatherings.

Children’s of Alabama is inundated with patients right now in the emergency room, with many needing ICU care for Flu and RSV.

“We have very high numbers of flu and RSV,” Jefferson County Child Health Medical Director Dr. Khalilah Brown said. “Anyone can get RSV, but typically healthy older children and adults under the age of 65, it tends to look more just like a general cold. Our little children with smaller airways, our premature babies, our kids who are immuno-compromised or have heart conditions, they are the ones who have trouble with RSV. As well as adults who are 65 and older.”

Dr. Brown said because all ages can be impacted differently, it can be hard to tell how severe your sickness is and when to go to the emergency room or not.

“The symptoms for flu, RSV, and Covid will sometimes overlap, so it can be a little confusing,” Dr. Brown said. “We want to make sure we are keeping the ERs open and our ER docs available for those emergencies, for those kids who are really sick.”

Brown said typical cold symptoms, like fever, cough and sore throat are normal. But, it’s when you notice worsened symptoms that you should be concerned.

“Call the pediatrician early, so they can help figure out what the steps are, before your child gets into significant trouble,” she said. “If they are having respiratory distress to the point where they can’t eat or drink or they have their nostrils flaring, you see their ribs when they are breathing, they are breathing that hard. Or, they are hard to wake up, lethargic, that’s when you should consider going to the emergency room.”

Brown said the best way to prevent severe illness is being extra careful this holiday season and getting the flu vaccine.

“Cover your mouth and hand washing are all things that work for Flu, RSV, and Covid,” he said.

Brown said if you are worried about your child’s symptoms, but don’t think it is severe enough for the ER, most pediatric offices have a 24-hour help line. She said they should be able to connect you to an on-call nurse or doctor about what you should do next.

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