Hospitals strained amid surge in RSV and flu cases

MADISON, Wis. — Healthcare professionals are warning of how rapidly both the flu and RSV are spreading in the community on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trifecta of respiratory illnesses is filling hospital beds across the nation, and Madison hospitals are no exception.

“Hospitals are still strained, still really busy,” said Dr. Josh Ross, a pediatric emergency medicine physician with UW Health Kids. “And this is not just in Dane County, this is across the whole state of Wisconsin, our region, our country.”

RELATED: RSV cases continue surging through Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, 2,500 new RSV cases were reported last week alongside 2,300 new influenza cases. The respiratory illnesses are affecting both children and adults; meaning this holiday season, a majority of the population is at risk of getting sick.

“Especially our hospitalized patients, in our pediatric population we’re seeing more RSV and in our adult population we’re seeing more influenza,” said Katelyn Harms, an infection preventionist with UnityPoint Health-Meriter.

As one virus begins to trend down, in this case, RSV; another trends up, namely, influenza.

“An outpatient environment like the emergency department, urgent cares, and primary care, we’re starting to see more influenza now than even RSV,” Ross said.

Ross said 27% of patients being tested for viral illnesses are coming back positive for the flu. Across the nation, flu season is just beginning, meaning numbers this high and this early are causing concern among healthcare professionals.

“Our influenza is probably just starting to significantly rise right now,” Harms said. “Within one week here at Meriter, we’ve seen a 120% increase in our hospitalized cases.”

UW Health is also reporting a major spike in flu cases with 422 reported in the last week of November, up from 190 just the week prior. This is compared to November 2019, the last pre-COVID flu season, when fewer than 10 influenza cases were reported during the entire month.

Health officials stress that a respiratory virus season hitting harder than normal, means taking care of yourself and being proactive in your health is especially important ahead of holiday gatherings.

RELATED: Health officials urge flu vaccinations ahead of holidays

“Being smart, taking care of yourself, washing your hands, keeping hydrated, getting good sleep, and making sure you’re taking care of the community by not going out when you’re sick,” Ross said.