WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – A steady increase in respiratory illnesses across the United States is keeping hospitals and emergency rooms busy.

Between holiday gatherings and loosened COVID-19 restrictions, more people are spending time with each other than they have in the past few years. Unfortunately, this causes seasonal illnesses to spread more easily, leaving hospitals packed with sick patients.

Dr. James Shina with Steward Medical Group says outpatient care is bombarded with phone calls every day about respiratory symptoms ranging from a runny nose and chills to high fever and chest pain.

Shina connects an increase in sick patients to the elimination of social distancing and mask mandates.

“Now that we are out in the open, back to try to live a normal life, it’s just kind of exploded and is hitting us pretty hard,” he said.

Steward Medical Group says influenza numbers are extremely high right now. RSV has also ramped up and is even affecting older adults.

“We haven’t seen an influenza surge like this probably since H1N1 first hit maybe almost a decade ago,” Shina said.

Shina explains all hospital systems are experiencing an increase in patient numbers, making it difficult to treat every patient effectively.

“Try to avoid the inappropriate use of emergency rooms because they are just understaffed as everybody else. They are busy with legitimate emergencies,” Shina said.

Most people with the flu or RSV experience only mild symptoms like a runny nose, cough or tiredness, but if your symptoms get worse, head to the hospital.

“We want to reserve the emergency room visits for those with chest pains, shortness of breath, passing out, things like that you know you want to get evaluated asap,” Shina said.

For all other mild symptoms, Shina advises calling your primary care doctor or urgent care.
Treating colds and flu at home can be effective with rest, fluids and over-the-counter medications. It’s the best way to avoid hospital overload and stay healthy this winter.