October 5, 2022

In The News: Surge of Respiratory Illnesses in Children Straining Some Hospitals’ Capacity

ABC News reports on pediatric emergency departments and health systems becoming stressed to capacity by surge in children’s respiratory illnesses, including rhinovirus and enterovirus. The outlet spoke with infectious diseases doctors across multiple states about the higher-than-expected rate of viruses circulating. While no one reason was identified, factors such as time of year and changes in COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were possible factors.

Doctors, including PIDS members Kevin Massacar and Uzma Hasan, from hospitals nationwide shared the situation at their respective hospitals and their expectations of the situation worsening as kids return to schools, the weather turns, and flu season arrives.

In Seattle, they are experiencing “unprecedented” volumes and “significant” viral activity. Similarly in Colorado, Dr. Massacar says it is a “significant year in terms of uptick” and is “on the lookout” for the respiratory wave. New Jersey is also seeing the surge. The ICUs at Dr. Hasan’s hospital were “starting to hit capacity” with kids exhibiting respiratory symptoms. Likewise, Louisiana has seen an “influx of viral pediatric respiratory illnesses,” as has Massachusetts.

The article notes that this is happening while many hospitals are understaffed, and doctors and staff are experiencing burnout following intensive pandemic demands. Even with the workarounds and mitigation efforts learned from handling the pandemic, the worry remains that a new variant or surge in COVID-19, along with flu season and RSV season’s normal calendar appearance, could push hospitalizations even further and what that could mean for adequately accommodating patients.

PIDS member Jeffrey Kahn commented, “The experience here in north Texas is similar to what is being observed nationwide. The volumes of ER visits and admissions are similar to what we typically saw during the winter months prior to the pandemic. Interestingly, this is occurring in the setting of relatively low and decreasing numbers of COVID-19 related illness, modest RSV circulation and almost no influenza activity. Clearly, one of the major driving forces for the current trends is the spread of rhinoviruses and enteroviruses. Whether this is due to new or novel strains entering the population or decreasing immunity, perhaps due to the previous pandemic-related restrictions, or both remains to be seen. Nonetheless, any increase in influenza activity may strain many health care systems.”

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