State health officials concerned that ‘tripledemic’ could fill up hospital beds

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Doctor examines a Covid-19 virus patient in the clean room with covid 19 and restricted area sign in front of the room
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The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) is reporting increases in respiratory viruses in the state, particularly influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) amid worries that these illnesses when, combined with Covid-19 could fill up hospital beds.

For the week of Oct. 16 through Oct. 22, there were 44 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu, compared to 19 cases the week before, bringing the statewide total for the season which began October on Oct. 2 to 69.

During the  same week, there were 98 cases of RSV, for a season total of 250. With Covid-19 continuing to circulate, DPH officials are concerned about the impact of a “tripledemic” of these respiratory viruses could have on the state’s overall hospital capacity.

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Covid-19 patients continue to account for more than 100 of the state’s hospital beds.

“We are managing the response to three serious respiratory viruses at once – the flu, RSV, and Covid-19 – and are significantly concerned about the impact increasing cases could have on an already strained hospital system,” said Division of Public Health Interim Director Dr. Rick Hong.  “Our primary message is stay home if you are sick. Fortunately, a vaccine is available for flu and Covid-19, and now is the time to ensure all eligible Delawareans have received these critically important immunizations including the new Covid bivalent booster to provide them with the most updated protection against circulating variants. Unfortunately, a vaccine is not available for RSV, and the current increase in cases throughout Delaware and the country emphasize the need to carefully follow prevention measures for these seasonal viruses.”

The flu and Covid-19 have many similar symptoms, including fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue (tiredness), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches and headaches. Other signs and symptoms of Covid-19 that are different from flu include a change in or loss of taste or smell. If you are sick, the best thing to do is call your health care provider to see if you should get tested fo Covid-19 or come in for a visit. Even if you take a home COVID-19 test and it’s negative, consider re-testing in two days, or consult your provider to see if you need a flu test.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like, symptoms including fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and in infants, fussiness and poor feeding.  It then progresses to more severe symptoms such as fast or short breathing or wheezing, and in infants and young children, grunting noises when breathing, chest caving in during breathing, and skin turning purple or blue due to lack of oxygen. While persons of any age can develop RSV, it is most common in children under age 2 and can be severe, especially for infants and older adults. Most people will recover in one to two weeks.

Delawareans can help prevent the spread of RSV, Covid-19, the flu, and other respiratory illnesses with the following, according to DPH

  1. – Get vaccinated for COVID-19, the flu, and other illnesses for which vaccines are available
  2. – Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and dispose of the tissue in a wastebasket afterward
  3. – Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  4. – Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  5. – Sanitize commonly touched surfaces more frequently during the fall and winter
  6. – Wear a mask when cases are high or if you are at higher risk for respiratory illness

The Delaware hospital system is experiencing strains right now, and Emergency Department (ED) wait times can be lengthy.  DPH is advising Delawareans on when to when to not visit the ED or call 911.

When to visit the emergency room

  • -Trouble breathing or wheezing that is not well-controlled by asthma medications
  • – Unusual sleepiness or confusion
  • – A stiff neck and a feverA cut that won’t stop bleeding
  • – A broken bone
  • – Tightness in chest or pain
  • – Elevated blood pressure with other symptoms, such as chest pain or severe headache
  • – Drug overdose
  • – A head injury with vomiting, sleepiness, fainting or seizure
  • – An eye injury
  • – A serious burn
  • – At risk of harming themselves or others

When not to visit

  • – Need a Covid-19 test
  • – Don’t feel well but can manage symptoms with over-the-counter medications
  • – Elevated blood pressure without other symptoms
  • – Runny nose/cough without trouble breathing
  • – Fever with mild symptoms
  • – Muscle soreness or backaches
  • – Minor cuts or scrapes
  • – Nausea or diarrhea without abdominal pain

For more information about RSV, the flu and COVID-19, visit publichealthalerts.delaware.gov.

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