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A blizzard of respiratory viruses fills up Utah hospitals, doctors encourage vaccinations

A view of Primary Children's Hospital.
Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare
Primary Children's Hospital

Several respiratory diseases, most notably RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), influenza, and to a lesser extent Covid-19, have been spreading rapidly and widely throughout Utah over the past several weeks.

At an Online Intermountain Healthcare press briefing Thursday, Dr. Per Gesteland, a pediatric Hospitalist with University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, said this has led to a dramatic surge of patients with acute respiratory illnesses at Utah healthcare facilities.

“The surge has been so large that it’s been placing a great deal of strain our healthcare delivery system including primary and acute care clinics, our emergency rooms, our inpatient wards, and our intensive care units,” said Dr. Gesteland.

He said the RSV outbreak has especially strained pediatric facilities with record breaking visits and stays but the current flood of influenza cases is now straining the adult healthcare facilities.

“The fact we are heading into the depths of winter and the holiday get together season with this level of community transmission of a host of things, rsv, flu, some seasonal coronavirus, some strep throat. That’s kind of deeply concerning for those of us that provide healthcare in the state,” said Dr. Gesteland.

The blizzard of viruses is also causing a shortage in over-the counter and prescription medications used to treat them. There is a nationwide shortage in anti-viral supplies especially for children, according to Dr. Tamara Sheffield, medical director for preventive medicine at Intermountain Healthcare.

“And so, we are actually going into our stockpile and reformulating adult doses that can be used with children,” said Dr. Sheffield.

With limited treatments, she said the best strategy is prevention.

“And the way to prevent these respiratory infections is through vaccination,” said Dr. Sheffield.

Dr. Sheffield said there is a vaccine for the current flu strain, and a booster for the Omicron Covid-19 variant. An adult RSV vaccine is not expected until the end of next year. She said other preventative measures include masking in public, practicing good hygiene and staying home when not feeling well.

“We are just encouraging you to do please do those steps so that we cannot become overwhelmed within the healthcare system, and we will have enough medications to treat people," said Dr. Sheffield.

Sheri's career in radio began at 7 years old in Los Angeles, California with a secret little radio tucked under her bed that she'd fall asleep with, while listening to The Dr. Demento Radio Show. She went on to produce the first science radio show in Utah in 1999 and has been reporting local, national and international stories ever since. After a stint as news director at KZYX on northern California's Lost Coast, she landed back at UPR in 2021.