Arizona hospitals see surge in COVID-19, flu, RSV cases

As medical professionals in Arizona continue to see an unprecedented surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), health officials are reporting a pediatric flu death.

On Nov. 23, health officials in Pinal County say the death of young child is the state's first pediatric flu death for the 2022-2023 flu season. Officials did not release the child's age, but did say that RSV and flu were contributing factors in the child's death.

Hospitals strain under ‘twindemic’

According to officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants six months and younger are getting hospitalized at seven times the rate observed before the COVID-19 Pandemic. Currently, some hospitals are at a near-breaking point, as they deal with RSV, Flu and COVID-19 all at once.

"This morning, we have 23 patients that are COVID-19 positive and in the hospital, compared to two weeks ago, when we were down to, you know, nine and 10," said Dr. Michael White, Chief Clinical Officer of Valleywise Hospital, on Dec. 1, 2022. "Patients that are presenting are ill. They're ill enough to require hospitalization. We aren't seeing the ICU level of patients that we saw, say, a year ago, but it's certainly higher than it had been over the summer."

Dr. White said the uptick may be due to gatherings that happen during this time of the year.

"We're also seeing people that are coming into this part of the country from other parts of the country now too," said Dr. White. "It's the time of the year where we see migration into the state of Arizona likely brining some of this in with them."

A Phoenix area doctor says normally, RSV is actually a common illness.

"It's extremely common," said Dr. Gary Kirkilas. "I think most children by the time they are 2 years of age have had RSV at least once. Most of us will experience it as the common cold, but there are some kids under the age of two and especially under the age of one that will have lower respiratory symptoms, like wheezing, difficulty breathing, and that’s where it gets more scary for parents."

Nationally, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that more than 75% of pediatric hospital beds are in use, up from an average of about 66% over the past two years.


Phoenix seeing RSV surge 

In Phoenix, doctors at Phoenix Children's Hospital say RSV hit them earlier than normal.

"We are definitely seeing a higher number of cases of RSV illness earlier in the year than we would typically expect," said Dr. Reina Patel. "Predominately, we see children coming in with symptoms of cough, runny nose, congestion, oftentimes difficulty breathing."

Dr. Gary Kirkilas with Phoenix Children's Hospital say the surge is alarming.

"Last weekend, man, our waiting rooms, it was just a lot of patients coming in," said Dr. Kirkilas. "In Maricopa County, the numbers are exceeding last year, and exceeding the last past several years."

Ahead of the holidays, Dr. Kirkilas say parents should be mindful of their child's health.

Dr. Patel also offered tips for people this winter season.

"Number one, if their child is having difficulty breathing -- and the things that they should look for are if they are using their chest muscles. If they are using their rib muscles, their belly, all of that is moving really fast, that is one sign of respiratory distress," said Dr. Patel. "If their lips or mouth is turning blue, that’s an emergency, and then, if you have a child that’s younger that’s having days of persistent higher fevers, that would be a reason to contact your pediatrician as well."


Parents speak out

"We hardly ever see her cry, she’s always full of laughter, she’s just amazing, the best gift that we could ever have," said Kaitlyn Allison Solano and Jaquon Davis about their baby girl Mulan.

She went through a frighting medical struggle.

"When she would breathe, her chest would go in, and you could see her ribcage," her mother said.

Their baby daughter was infected with RSV.

"It got really scary because, at one point, she did turn blue," Davis said.

As for Mulan, her parents say she's a fighter.

You can donate to Mulan's GoFundMe here:

Doctors say Mulan’s RSV delayed her open-heart surgery for several weeks. But now, post-surgery, she’s recovering and doing well at Phoenix Children's.

Mulan's parents are encouraging every parent to take action if they see symptoms.

"Take them, take them right away," her father said.

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