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Local hospital warns flu is surging in kids and adults

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — As fall turns to winter, the illnesses doctors tend to see during colder weather, including the flu, are surging in central Indiana.

Dr. Jen Barker, a pediatric emergency medicine physician with Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis, says several illnesses are hitting at the same time, sending many kids and adults to local emergency rooms.

“We’re seeing a number of different things all coalescing at the same time. I’ll say that the predominant thing we’re seeing this week in bigger numbers is gonna be influenza, particularly influenza A, in addition to seeing some COVID-19 and RSV, especially in the smaller kids.”

The state’s influenza dashboard shows that more than 2,600 Hoosiers visited emergency rooms last week because of the flu. Since the state began tracking flu numbers in October, nearly 11% of flu patients in emergency rooms statewide have been 4 years old or younger.

Barker says a hallmark of all three viruses — flu, COVID-19, and RSV — is difficulty breathing.

“If you’re looking at your child, you’re seeing the nose flare, you’re seeing them kind of suck in between the ribs, if they’re breathing more than once a second, on average? All good reasons to come to the emergency department,” Barker said.

In adults, there are other symptoms to look for as well, Barker says.

“For adults, generally speaking, chest pain. In addition to that, difficulty breathing, especially if you’re seeing any color change. Those lips start to look really pale, the fingertips are looking dusky? We would definitely want to check them out.”

Other flu symptoms include headaches, body aches, and fever.

For treatment at home, Barker recommends Tylenol or ibuprofen for adults, as well as over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to help with respiratory symptoms.

For children, Barker suggests using some saline in the nose and suctioning the nose.

Signs of coronavirus and RSV are similar to flu symptoms, Barker says.

“You certainly can have some fever (with COVID), along with the classic symptoms, like the loss of taste or smell. And then, with COVID, you’re also gonna get more of that chest discomfort and shortness of breath along with it. So, influenza is on one side with high fevers, RSV with a runny nose and COVID is kind of in between,” Barker said.

One reason illnesses like the flu and RSV are so prevalent right now is that people went a while without seeing them when COVID-19 precautions like masking and social distancing were in place, Barker says.

“I think we spent a period of time where our bodies were not regularly seeing some of these viruses and so they lost maybe a little bit of the memory of that, and for our small kids, their bodies have not seen these viruses at all. As we distanced and were apart from each other, there was not near as much circulating around, so now, we are seeing many things and there’s a lot of viruses that have prevalence in the community such that you’re gonna get exposed to it if you’re out and about. Our bodies are working overtime to try to get exposed and build our immunity to fight all of these things off.”

Visit the CDC website to learn more about the flu and how to prevent it.

Need to schedule a flu or COVID-19 vaccine? Check out vaccines.gov.