Essex County

Mass. clinics, hospitals still slammed with respiratory patients

MEHTUEN, Mass. — Nurse Practitioner Patricia Doherty remembers the days when urgent care clinics took care of such things as lacerations and accidental injuries. They still might do a few of those — but such cases are dwarfed by the number of patients seeking care for respiratory illnesses.

“It started just before Thanksgiving and it just hasn’t let up,” said Doherty, who practices at AFC Urgent Care in Methuen.

First, it was RSV, then came a sharp rise in flu and COVID-19.

“Christmas came with strep throat and now we’ve kind of got a little bit of everything going around,” Doherty said.

And sometimes it’s a little bit of everything all at once.

“You can get flu and strep at the same time,” she said. “Probably every shift there’s a case or two.”

What may be remarkable is the frequency of strep throat in adults this winter. The CDC reports the infection most commonly occurs in children ages five to fifteen. One recent study found children two to six times more likely to have sore throats caused by strep than adults.

Doherty said that nonetheless, if a child brings strep home there is always the risk of wider infection.

Six-year-old Victoria Maldonado just got diagnosed with strep throat.

“I guess she did complain about her throat, but I thought it was just a cold,” said her mom, Dayanara, who actually brought Victoria to the clinic because of a whole-body rash.

“It looked like an allergic reaction... like hives, almost,” she said.

It turns out Victoria experienced a rare strep symptom — but a course of antibiotics should clear both the rash and the sore throat.

Eventually, as the weather warms, Doherty anticipates a drop in cases of COVID-19, flu, and strep. Until then, to limit the spread, she said it’s wise to stay out of work or school until the fever and symptoms are gone for 24 hours. That could take up to five days for flu and COVID-19. Strep, on the other hand, usually clears to the point of non-contagiousness 24 hours after use of an antibiotic.

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