Hospitals on the Seacoast and around the country are seeing increases in hospitalizations for the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the flu, and COVID-19, pushing them to early seasonal peaks and capacities, according to a warning from the CDC.

The CDC said that RSV, which causes mild, cold-like symptoms that most people can recover from in a week or two, can be serious for infants and older adults. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States.

Martha Wassell, Wentworth-Douglass Hosptal's Director of Infection Prevention, encourages people to again heed the steps taken during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the spread of infection: wash your hands, clean high touch surfaces, and keep sick children home from school.

"We need to do what we can to prevent transmission of these viral respiratory illnesses, whether it's through social distancing, masking, and especially getting vaccinated for those that we have vaccines for, because if we can reduce transmission and reduce illnesses in the community and across the country, we're going to help our health care systems help us," Wassell told Seacoast Current.

Hospital Beds Filling Up

The emergency room at Wentworth-Douglass has seen an increase in those seeking treatment for viral respiratory illnesses in recent weeks, according to Wassell. While patient levels are not at near capacity like they were during the pandemic, it can still have an impact on patient services.

"There will be very little room for those coming in with other emergent issues. Similarly, if we have inpatients and staffing constraints and resource constraints, we may be challenged with providing regular services such as scheduled surgeries or elective procedures," Wassell said. "It all ties together. And I think we all have to realize that healthcare at this point is not an unlimited resource. And we have to do everything we can to be prudent with how we proceed."

Wassell said that the staff at Wentworth-Douglass has lots of experience managing staffing challenges. The community also needs to help reduce the risk of transmission.

Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover
Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover (Kimberley Haas)

Pandemic Partially to Blame

Ironically, the precautions taken over the past two years have contributed to creating the current issues. Wassell said that as a result, young children who were never exposed to RSV are getting infected for the first time.

"And science does tell us that the first infection is typically the worst. And once those natural antibodies are created, we all can get RSV again, but it's not as serious," Wassell said.

"We will see children getting significantly ill with this and requiring either care with their pediatrician, emergency room care, or admissions. Fortunately, many of these illnesses can be managed at home. But there is a subset, probably between 10 and 15%, that will require some supportive medical care," Wassell said.

Flu Shots at a Low

Only between 17 and 20% of the population nationwide have received the flu shot so far this year, according to the CDC's latest report of November 4, which worries Wassell because the southern hemisphere had a significant and severe increase in cases.

She encouraged people to not only get the flu shot, but the bivalent booster for those who have the primary series of COVID-19 shots. Both can be taken at the same time.

"We are at a critical point right now, where if we don't stop transmission of these respiratory viral illnesses, we will be in trouble as far as overloading every healthcare system," Wassell said.

Wentworth-Douglass spokesman Adam Bagni said that when the healthcare system is strained, it creates a strain on everyone.

"When there's not enough beds, that's an issue for people that come into the emergency room. That's an issue for people who have upcoming surgery. Maybe they end up being delayed because of that. This strain of RSV/flu/COVID really could potentially impact anyone on any day," Bagni said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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