Oct 21, 2022 - Health

Respiratory virus cases in children surging "like never before"

Registered nurse Jean Boone watches from Children's National Hospital.

Registered nurse Jean Boone watches from Children's National Hospital. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Respiratory illnesses in children are overwhelming hospitals across the United States right now.

The big picture: The unseasonably high numbers of respiratory illness in kids has put a strain on hospitals that are already preparing for the typical wintertime surge of patients ill from viruses.

Physicians across the country have reported seeing more cases of the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in recent weeks.

  • RSV is a common respiratory virus among children that produces common cold symptoms.
  • For most, a mild case of RSV lasts about two weeks. But some infants, young children and older adults, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, may suffer from more severe cases, leading to hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By the numbers: Data from the CDC show that cases of RSV detected by PCR tests have tripled in the last two months.

  • Case numbers have already reached peak levels from 2021, according to CDC data.

Zoom in: Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., neared capacity this week as respiratory illness cases spiked, Axios D.C. reports.

  • Children's Hospital Colorado has been filling up with sick kids, too, per Axios Denver.
  • Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford is considering building a field hospital outside the main facility if case numbers continue to grow, Juan Salazar, the physician-in-chief, told the Wall Street Journal.

How we got here: In pre-pandemic years, RSV would make its rounds in the fall and winter before going away in the summer, according to the Wall Street Journal. COVID shifted the pattern, causing a dip in RSV as the coronavirus bullied its way through the population.

  • But this year, RSV and other respiratory illnesses lingered throughout the summer and now into early fall.

What they're saying: "RSV admissions have skyrocketed at Connecticut Children's. October has been like never before for this virus," Monica Buchanan, senior director at Connecticut Children's Hospital, told CNN.

  • "I've been doing this for a long time, I’ve been at Connecticut Children’s for 25 years, and I have never seen this level of surge — specifically of RSV — coming into our hospital," Salazar told CNN.
  • "I think for the next four to eight weeks, we just have to be careful."

What to do: Officials recommend caregivers vaccinate their children for influenza to protect against a rise in those cases later this winter.

Go deeper: Here's what caregivers should consider when assessing their children's health this winter

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