WASHINGTON, D.C.—Emergency physicians around the country are treating patients with a range of respiratory emergencies caused by the “triple threat” of severe cases of flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). As hospitalizations for flu-related illnesses soar, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) urges everyone to take steps to stay safe during the holidays.
“Hospitals are filling with patients who have severe respiratory illnesses, and many emergency departments are more strained today than any other recent time during the pandemic,” said Christopher S. Kang, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “Respiratory illnesses like flu, RSV, or COVID can have similar symptoms and it is important to distinguish between health concerns that can be managed at home and worrisome signs of a possible emergency.”
There have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from flu so far this season, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates. For adults, high fever, difficulty breathing, chest pain, or bluish lips or face can be signs that these respiratory illnesses require emergency care. For young children, those symptoms or difficulty breathing, dehydration, and a noticeable change in alertness are among the signs they need prompt medical attention.
Emergency physicians continue to support the measures proven to prevent severe respiratory infections, which include proper hygiene and hand washing, vaccinations, and avoiding contact with others when sick. As the holiday season approaches, the CDC is also encouraging people to wear high-quality, well-fitting masks to protect themselves and others from getting sick.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to help reduce severe illness and death. Flu shots are recommended for everyone six months of age or older, especially children, people with a compromised immune system, pregnant women, and those age 65 and older.
“As in years before the pandemic, we are seeing an uptick in flu and other respiratory viruses during the holidays,” said Dr. Kang. “Although emergency physicians are incredibly busy this time of year, we continue to stand ready to help whenever we are needed—do not hesitate to visit the emergency department if an emergency occurs.”