We are still experiencing high levels of respiratory illness in the community. This includes RSV, a cold-like illness that can be serious for infants, COVID-19, and influenza. Currently influenza seems to be the virus that is affecting — and infecting — the most people. Portland-area pediatric ICUs are still running at or above capacity; many of our area hospitals are so busy that they are on ‘ambulance divert’ meaning that they are instructing ambulances to take patients elsewhere for emergency department care. Wait times for walk-in patients at emergency departments and urgent care centers are at least 4-5 hours for non-life-threatening conditions. Primary care clinics such as ours are running out of appointments within an hour or two of opening in the morning. And to top it all off, the entire country is experiencing shortages of many common pediatric medications, including over-the-counter fever reducers, prescription medications, and even long-term medications such as pills for ADHD.
What can you do?
- Prevent illness in your own household and those of others. You can help to do this by making sure everyone in the family is vaccinated ASAP against COVID-19 and influenza. There is no vaccine as of yet for RSV. Also, please stay home if you are sick and keep your sick children home, even if they hate to miss school. Practice good hand-washing and consider masking in public. Think twice about having gatherings of people who aren’t part of your household. Work from home when you have that option.
- Treat viral infections appropriately. For adults, teens, and children old enough to describe their symptoms to adults, you can pretty easily tell if they actually need to be seen for their illness. Anyone with the combination of fever, cough, runny nose, body aches, and scratchy throat most likely has one of the three viruses mentioned above. If you can do a home COVID test you can narrow it down more. Most people with any of these three infections (along with the ordinary coughs and colds that are also out there) do NOT need to be evaluated by a health care professional. Treat the symptoms with pain/fever relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, encourage fluids and rest, and turn to time-tested home remedies such as tea with honey, Vicks vaporrub, and a humidifier. Please don’t go to the ED or the UC for these kinds of symptoms. Please don’t waste your money on ‘cough medicines’ or multi-symptom cold relievers.
- Who DOES need to be seen? Little children with persistent and convincing ear pain or ear drainage should be seen. Children over three with sore throat and fever or headache as their only symptoms should be seen. Infants or toddlers with rapid breathing and/or constant coughing may need to be seen; call us. Call us for anyone of any age who seems to be experiencing persistent trouble breathing that is NOT caused just by a stuffy nose.
- What should you do if you can’t find your child’s medication? For chronic medications such as those used for ADHD, we ask that you call around to local pharmacies and find one that has your child’s medication in stock. We are understaffed just like everyone else in health care right now and we simply don’t have the staffing levels for our people to do this for you. Call us back when you find a pharmacy and we will re-direct your child’s prescription. For children’s liquid fever reducers, you can substitute the pill version crushed or broken and added to a favorite soft food. One-half of a regular 200 mg adult ibuprofen is the same as 5 mL of the liquid suspension; one-half of a regular 325 mg acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) is very close to the 160 mg contained in 5 mL of the children’s liquid version. For urgently needed prescription medications such as an antibiotic for your child, we may need to change it to tablets or capsules and ask you to crush it or break it open for your child; call us if your pharmacy is not able to supply you with your child’s medication. PLEASE don’t hoard medications, and please share OTC meds with your friends and family if they are in need. In an emergency, a recently expired medication is better than none at all.
- Be patient with us and with everyone with in health care right now. We are continuing to have to reschedule some of our preventive care in order to meet the needs of our patients during this crisis. We may not be able to see less-urgent problems right now and we may have to convert some visits to telemedicine encounters. We get sick too, and despite everyone’s best efforts some of us have to stay home because of our own illness or that of a family member, so please allow more time to hear back from us about routine matters.
Thanks, parents and patients. Please look out for each other out there in the community and do what you can to help with this current emergency.