Children’s Hospitals Fill Up as RSV Runs Rampant Across the U.S.

A dramatic spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus is leaving pediatric units around the nation overwhelmed
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Children’s hospitals across the country have witnessed a frightening surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Although the virus commonly sends thousands of children to pediatric units throughout the fall and winter seasons, the number of cases hit an historical spike this year for the second summer in a row.

These unusually high numbers are already pushing hospitals to capacity, and warranting a notice from public health officials that winter could be a “tripledemic”—COVID, flu, and RSV. While RSV is not typically a problem for adults, causing only mild illness with cold-like symptoms, it can be incredibly dangerous for children and the elderly, often leading to pneumonia and bronchitis.

The rise in cases has already reached a critical point, with Orange County declaring a health emergency, the Los Angeles Times reports. The county has just two hospitals dedicated to caring for children, and both are said to “have been operating at or beyond their capacity to care for pediatric [patients] with respiratory illness,” county health officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said Tuesday.

“I’m concerned with what the future holds,” Chinsio-Kwong said. Should flu and RSV cases surge simultaneously, “we’re in trouble. And typically those two viruses do affect our younger kids. And there’s only so many beds that a pediatric hospital has to care for the very sick.”

At the Children’s Health of Orange County hospital, more than 400 pediatric patients are currently being seen daily in the emergency room.

About 15 percent of children in the ER are admitted. On Tuesday, 285 patients were admitted to the 334-bed CHOC hospital. That figure was 188 one year ago.

Though cases are rising for RSV in Los Angeles—a positive test rate increasing from 31 percent to 38 percent in the last week—county public health officials say there has been no major increase in pediatric hospital bed occupancy.

Still, the county stands at risk, with Marisa Glucoft, executive director for quality and safety at Children’s Hospital L.A., stating that the peak positive test rate last year was 24 percent.


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