Italy is currently grappling with a serious health crisis as emergency rooms struggle to cope with a surge in pediatric respiratory infections, specifically bronchiolitis. This surge is happening alongside the ongoing battle against COVID-19 and influenza, making the situation even more challenging. Children under the age of 5 are particularly affected, with hospitals across the country overwhelmed by the influx of patients.
The increase in infections is attributed to the loss of infection control measures during the holiday season. Large gatherings in enclosed spaces facilitated the rapid transmission of viruses, leading to the current surge in cases. Pediatric departments and emergency rooms are now overwhelmed by the rise in cases of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, which causes bronchiolitis, especially among young children.
The situation is critical for children under 6 months, particularly those with older siblings attending nurseries, as they contribute to the spread of infections at home. Italian hospitals are on the brink of collapse, with over 1,100 patients awaiting admission in Rome alone. Ambulances can be seen lined up outside hospitals, and regions like Lombardy are experiencing overcrowding in waiting rooms due to a shortage of beds. Some hospitals even lack stretchers to accommodate the influx of patients.
The surge in hospital admissions in Italy is primarily due to respiratory diseases, not only from COVID-19 but also from a record-breaking influenza epidemic. The influenza curve showed an unprecedented incidence value in the week before Christmas, indicating a situation that is far from stabilizing. To combat overcrowding, regions have activated plans, but the chronic scarcity of hospital beds necessitates reallocating beds from other specialties, further exacerbating the problem.
Healthcare workers in Italy are exhausted as the crisis deepens. Many have not had a break over the Christmas and New Year period. The overburdened healthcare system is now dealing with blocked ambulances, postponed operations, and emergency rooms filled with patients. The delayed vaccination campaign is also criticized as a contributing factor to the current situation.
Family doctors in Rome report a record surge in influenza and COVID-19 cases, with visits doubling in recent days. The combination of COVID-19, influenza, and intestinal symptoms has overwhelmed healthcare facilities. The peak is expected in early January, coinciding with the reopening of schools. Emergency rooms in Rome are struggling to handle the influx of patients, creating an unprecedented volume of activity for medical professionals.
The Italian Health Institute warns that the large influx of patients, primarily from influenza, could burden healthcare services for an extended period. Regions such as Lombardy, Venice, Emilia-Romagna, and Campania are the most heavily impacted. Emergency calls and hospital admissions have increased by over 30 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, attributed to both influenza and hard-to-treat cases of mutated coronavirus strains.
Italy is currently facing a dual health crisis, with a surge in pediatric respiratory infections and ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 and influenza. The strain on emergency rooms and hospitals is pushing the healthcare system to its limits, and healthcare workers are facing exhaustion. Urgent measures, such as vaccination campaigns and resource allocation strategies, are crucial to navigate these challenging times and protect public health.