Dell Children’s Medical Center seeing an influx of flu patients

Hospital room at Dell Children's Medical Center. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)
Hospital room at Dell Children's Medical Center. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Medical staff at Dell Children’s Medical Center have set up an extra care site to accommodate the number of patients they’re seeing with the flu.

“Last Monday, we saw almost 380 kids in a 24 hour period. And, for us that’s unbelievable volume,” said. Dr. Eric Higginbotham, medical director of Dell Children’s emergency department.

The pediatric hospital says this year’s strain is more infectious than deadly. And, January was the worst month for young patients fighting the flu, Higginbotham said.

“We saw almost 1,500 more kids in 30 days than we had in years past and the majority of those were flu cases,” he said.

Leslie Sopko’s 4-year-old daughter was one.

“She woke up around one o’clock in the morning and she was burning up,” Sopko said, who lives in Cedar Park.  “We had to strip her of her pajamas and took her temperature. It was about 104 degrees.”

The doctor confirmed what Sopko feared. Her daughter had the flu. Sopko believes she contracted it at school, where many of her daughter’s classmates have come down with the flu. Now, she is concerned that her younger daughter could get the flu, too.

“Myself and my 2-year-old are taking preventative Tamiflu. We’re just making sure that we keep everything clean and that we sanitize.”

In Travis County, there have been 32 flu-related deaths this season; however, none of the patients have been children. Department of State Health Services records indicates five Texas children have died from the flu this season.

Dr. Higginbotham said most of the children admitted to his hospital are dehydrated and need extra fluids. But, he said the good news is that his staff is not seeing other dangerous complications that come with the flu.

“The biggest complications we’ve seen in years past is the kid gets the flu, their immune system gets down on top of that and they develop pneumonia,” said Higginbotham.

Pneumonia can also lead to dangerous staph infections, which can become deadly for some children. But health workers haven’t seen those complications so far this year.

The state says it is too early to tell if influenza activity has peaked for the season.

Last week, at Dell Children’s, doctors set up eight extra beds. They haven’t had to use them yet, but that could change.

“Maybe we’re on the tail end of this,” said Higginbotham. “Now, in years past I’ve said this; and, then, of course, it surges back up again.”

At St. David’s Children’s Hospital. extra beds have been set up as well to accommodate for the influx in patients coming in with winter illnesses, such as the flu, RSV and bronchiolitis.

Pediatricians say with most flu cases, an ER trip isn’t necessary

Pediatricians say in many cases, parents can avoid the congestion in emergency rooms and take their children to a clinic or primary care doctor, even when symptoms seem severe

“We do want to try to keep people out of the emergency room as best we can,” said Dr. Samuel Mirrop of Pediatric Associates of Austin. “We can manage most things here.”

Dr. Mirrop says too often, parents get worried when their children have flu symptoms and a high fever, and take them straight to the emergency room. He says often even a high fever can be treated without an ER visit.

“One of the downsides of going to the ER aside from waiting for hours and that kind of thing, you might not have the flu and you might pick it up there too.”

Instead, he says, parents should call their child’s pediatrician first and follow their advice. Often, even if it’s after normal business hours, he says doctors will recommend going to an after-hours clinic rather than a hospital.

Dr. Mirrop says generally, only the most serious flu cases need to be seen at the hospital — those that involve a newborn or a child with heart issues. He says if a child has flu symptoms that worsen to the point of having trouble breathing, parents should call 911 immediately.

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