Hospitals across the United States are now overwhelmed by the unprecedented numbers of children who have contracted the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Those who suffer from severe RSV infections find breathing difficult and may struggle with it until treated.
As for the hospital emergency departments, they are now challenged to treat the sick babies and the other children as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infections have been spreading at an insanely fast pace.
RSV is the most common cause behind bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs). This oftentimes happen in children under 1 year old in the U.S. This was, according to the findings of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The track they made shows that almost 5,000 tests were positive for RSV as of the first week of October.
While this disease is often found in the months of January or February, a CDC official spoke to NBC News and said that many of the regions in the country have numbers that are at an all-time high.
The spike comes with the early onset of flu season and what could be a probably winter COVID-19 surge. The public health officials concerned who have seen what had been happening expressed concern about whether or not the healthcare system can accommodate all of them.
South Carolina’s High RSV Cases
Across the country, there is a higher and more unusual number of children diagnosed to have RSV are checking in at hospital emergency departments. At Medical University South Carolina Children’s Health in Charleston, Elizabeth Mack, MD, the division chief of pediatric critical care, told talked to school’s news center about the cases and said, “South Carolina is drowning in RSV.”
In Connecticut, Children’s Medical Center in Hartford have ran out of beds. They have actually asked for help from the National Guard and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) because they had already expressed desire to set up a tent unit the lawn. The state’s local news networks have already reported on this.
“Our region is seeing a surge in respiratory viruses that more typically peak in the winter,” Charlotte Boney, MD, said. She is the pediatrician-in-chief at Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts. She also spoke in a statement and shared, “These viruses can cause mild to moderate, even severe symptoms. Children who may not have had recent exposures to these viruses are now getting sick from them, and many are getting sicker than usual.”
The CDC has made an estimation and said that in a usual year, RSV brings around 58,000 hospitalizations and 100 to 300 deaths in patients under age of 5.
Signs to Look For in Children
Most get diagnosed with at least one RSV infection when they reach 2 years old and some have reported serious health issues. However for many of the cases, RSV infections are mild with cold-like symptoms that disappear on its own. They experience runny nose, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and even wheezing.
Boston Children’s Hospital estimated that about 0.5 to 2 percent of infected patients need to be checked in the hospital. Babies who have severe and what could be life-threatening infection will suffer from dehydration and will experience and difficulty in breathing.
“The best way to assess if your child is staying hydrated is to check if they are having less wetness in their diapers or fewer wet diapers than they normally would,” says Alan Schroeder, MD. He is the associate chief for research in the division of pediatric hospital medicine at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford located in Palo Alto, California. The establishment has seen a rise in RVS hospitalizations.
“The other important thing to look out for is whether your child is having a hard time breathing,” he also said. “When babies have a harder time breathing, you can see that the skin sort of pulls in between the ribs or over the clavicle and they start breathing faster. So if you see those signs in your baby, that is worth bringing to the attention of your pediatrician or even going to an emergency room if you’re really concerned.”
The Cause Behind the Surge
Dr. Schroeder and other pediatricians also surmised that the COVID-19 pandemic may be a catalyst to the surge. Oftentimes, RSV season is from November to April. Witnessing the infections happening a little too is not a common situation.
“With the pandemic, we saw all viruses practically disappear for about a year because of all the isolation measures intended to prevent transmission of COVID,” said Schroeder. “Right now, it’s like the clock got reset and the seasonality is just really out of whack.”
Babies who don’t have too much exposure to RSV because of the precautions they took during the pandemic may not have the antibodies to help and protect them. This is especially true when maternal antibodies, those that have been given to them while they were in the womb, start to lower. They may also have lower maternal antibodies if the mothers took precautionary measures while they were pregnant.
According to the CDC, aside from the very young infants, other groups that are at a high risk of severe RSV are the premature babies, young children who suffer from chronic lung or heart disease, older adults, and those who have a weakened immune system brought about by a present ailment.
Unfortunately, there is no particular treatment for RSV infection available. The good news, though, is that researchers are working to develop vaccines and antivirals to create meds that address the viruses.
At this point, the medical experts simply focus on easing symptoms with the use of pain relievers, hydration, and of course, lots of rest. Hospital care can also help with intravenous fluids, tube feedings, supplemental oxygen, and bronchodilator medications. These are given to open the airways.
Schroeder said that the virus often spreads by direct contact with secretions that come from the patient’s mouth or nose. To prevent the spread, hand washing is extremely important.
“A classic example is a baby or young child in day care that has a snotty nose, and that gets on the hand of another kid or a caregiver and then that person goes on and touches another kid, spreading the virus,” said Schroeder.