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Flu And Cold Season Sending High Numbers Of Kids To Cleveland Clinic ER

[Billion / Shutterstock]
Flu shot

Northeast Ohio health officials say there are some signs that a spike of cold and flu activity in the area may be leveling off.

In December, most area hospitals say they treated high numbers of patients with respiratory issues.

At Cleveland Clinic, children under the age of six continue to show up in record numbers, said Dr. Purva Grover, head of the clinic’s pediatric emergency department.

There was an unbelievable increase, said Grover, in the number of patients at both the Hillcrest and Fairview hospitals, which both have dedicated pediatric emergency departments.

“At Hillcrest Hospital we saw about 1,800 [pediatric] patients in December 2018, and last year in December 2019 we saw 2,089 patients, so almost a 20 percent increase,” she said.

Grover attributes the increase, partly, to the human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). It is very contagious and hits children much harder than adults, she said.

“It’s a common cold for you and me, but for little kids it can cause devastating things, including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and severe dehydration,” Grover said.

If children are having difficulty breathing because they are very congested, they do not want to eat, and are tired and listless, parents should seek medical attention for them, she said.

MetroHealth family physician, Dr. Christine Alexander, says the hospital ER also saw an uptick in RSV cases in early December but says it may have peaked.

Officials at University Hospitals also said RSV cases peaked in late November and are currently on a downward trend.

The flu virus currently circulating in the area has also had an impact on children, said Richard Stacklin, data analyst at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

“Usually the A strain at this point is the active flu, whether its H1N1 or H3N2, but this season the B strain has been found to be the cause of people getting admitted to hospitals,” Stacklin said.

The B strain can have a more harmful effect on children, he said.  This flu season the highest number of flu-related hospitalizations have been children less than ten years old.

Flu activity overall is elevated for all age groups locally, he said.

“During the last week of December, the number of people who went to area hospitals to be treated for the flu was the highest we have seen in the last ten years,” he said.

Some 85 people were hospitalized with flu-related illnesses that week, Stacklin.

Ohio Department of Health officials announced last week that there has been one flu-associated pediatric deaththis flu season. A 16-year old girl Berea area girl died on New Year’s Eve.

State health officials say there is widespread flu activity across Ohio and hospitalizations from flu-related illness are much higher than the same time last year.

Flu activity typically peaks between December and February.


Marlene Harris-Taylor
Marlene is the director of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.