Children’s emergency department seeing high number of patients with seasonal illnesses

January 10, 2013

Patient visits to the Emergency Department at Children’s Medical Center have increased dramatically in recent weeks due to an early onset of seasonal illnesses. The high influx of patients is due to several different conditions – fever, flu, RSV, viruses, strep throat and nasal congestion.

“We are always ready to see every child who needs to be seen in the Emergency Department,” said Dr. Halim Hennes, Children’s director of pediatric emergency services. “We would like to encourage parents whose children show symptoms of minor illnesses to visit their pediatrician’s office or an urgent care clinic first, so their children are not exposed to other children with more serious illnesses in our Emergency Department.”

Because increased patient volume causes longer wait times and exposes patients and their families to the flu and other contagious illnesses, Children’s physicians are providing guidelines to help parents discern when to bring their children to the hospital:

  • Know when to take newborns to the hospital: Infants under 2 months of age – who are at particular risk of catching illnesses from people who are contagious – are among those visiting Children’s emergency room with minor ailments, doctors said. Infants that age who are constipated, have a rash or are spitting up are better served by their pediatrician, doctors said. “If the baby is not eating, is listless, has any fever or difficulty breathing or has a color change, then we need to see them,” Hennes said.
  • Fever in older children is not an emergency: For children over 2 months of age, fever by itself is not an indication to take a child to the hospital, said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of Children’s Infectious Disease Division. “Fever is quite common during the winter seasons and it’s a common manifestation of the flu, which we’re seeing now. If your child does have a fever and they respond to Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen), that’s an indication the child doesn’t need to come to the Emergency Department.”
  • Keep an eye out for these emergency symptoms: Children of all ages should immediately be brought to Children’s Emergency Department if they have difficulty breathing, become unresponsive, suffer from excessive vomiting or appear dehydrated with decreased urination, dry lips or sunken eyes, Kahn said. Any of these symptoms warrants an emergency visit.
  • Be mindful of the flu: The increased patient visits can be partially attributed to the early arrival of the flu season. Flu cases have spiked recently at Children’s – last week, 172 positive flu tests were recorded at the hospital, compared to 136 the previous week.
  • Get your flu shot: Parents can help avoid a trip to the emergency room by making sure everyone in their family over 6 months of age receives a flu shot.
  • Keep healthy family members out of the emergency room: Parents can help reduce exposure to flu and other illnesses by limiting the number of family members who accompany a sick child to the emergency room. Healthy children and relatives should remain at home.

“Abdominal pain, severe headache, difficulty walking, breathing or urinating, and injury – those are things people need to go to the Emergency Department for,” Hennes said. “We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If a parent is concerned, we are more than happy to see them. But by following these few key guidelines, parents can avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital.”

Hennes is also a professor of pediatrics and surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, while Kahn is a professor of pediatrics and microbiology at the academic institution.


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