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Peoria hospitals face a rise in respiratory illnesses

OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center

A seasonal surge of respiratory illnesses is putting some strain on hospital systems in Greater Peoria.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced earlier this month it is monitoring an “elevated” level of viruses like COVID, influenza and RSV. At OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Vice President for Clinical Specialty Services Brian Curtis says that means a 10 to 20% increase in cases.

“This is our busy time, right, and so we kind of expect this to be our busy time of year, every year,” he said. “So, you know, it leads to increased wait time in emergency departments, within prompt cares and even into the doctor’s offices.”

Curtis said the severity of infections ranges from mild to serious, but the sheer number of infections means there is an increase in hospital admissions from these illnesses.

With the emergency departments and doctor’s offices crowded, it’s important to know when to get care from a medical professional.

Curtis said mild symptoms, like fever, chills, and body aches, can be treated at home with pain relievers, rest and pushing fluids. You also can use an at-home test to check if you have COVID. However, there are some signs when you should get additional help.

“If you’re not able to keep liquids down, you know, you’re having trouble breathing. You have a fever that just isn’t responding to Tylenol or Motrin and stays very elevated,” said Curtis. “Or, if people just aren’t acting right, they just aren’t their normal selves or they’re obviously difficult to rouse.”

In the worst case scenario, you could even have multiple respiratory illnesses at the same time.

“I haven't really seen a dual infection yet,” said Curtis. “You know, however, that is always a concern. And you can have more than one viral illness at a time.”

If your symptoms are serious and ongoing, Curtis recommends getting care from a primary care doctor, prompt care, or an emergency department visit. He points out you can also get medical guidance through the MyChart app and video visits. You can find more information about the different ways you can get care through OSF here.

Curtis said flu season is typically considered to start in October and end in March. In Illinois, he said January and February tend to be the peak months.

“So either we're going to peak a little bit early, or this is going to lead right into our peak season,” said Curtis. “You know, so we're kind of entering that time period for us.”

Hospitals will prepare by re-instituting masking for their physicians, making sure their staff are fully vaccinated and limiting the number of visitors into hospitals. The Peoria City/County Health Department announced visitor restrictions for local hospitals on Wednesday.

Curtis said it’s critical that health care providers don’t end up sick themselves.

“Obviously, when your health care personnel start getting sick, your nurses, the techs, housekeeping physicians, I mean, it impacts their ability to deliver across the board.” he said.

In the meantime, Curtis said to pay special attention to hand washing, wiping down high traffic surfaces and staying home from holiday events if you’re feeling ill.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.