Nov 1, 2022 - COVID

Pediatric wards fill up in Richmond as flu season starts early

Illustration of a stethoscope in the shape of a pair of lungs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A surprising increase in respiratory illnesses in children is putting pressure on hospitals around the state.

Why it matters: The early onslaught of cases is filling pediatric units earlier than normal, prompting concerns about a challenging flu and respiratory disease season, the Virginia Mercury's Sarah Vogelsong reports.

What's happening: Doctors say the number of RSV cases, or respiratory syncytial virus — a common illness — jumped fourfold from September to October and that the cases are worse than years past.

  • They say they're also seeing an early surge in flu cases, which don’t typically peak until February.

What they're saying: "In my career, I've never seen it this early," Seth Brown, chief medical officer for Ballad Health Niswonger Children's Network, a regional health system that covers Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee, told the Mercury. "I've never seen quite the severity in terms of children requiring respiratory support and even ventilator support."

The intrigue: Experts say one of the potential causes of higher numbers of RSV this year could be long periods of isolation as a result of the pandemic, which meant fewer parents and children were exposed, creating immunity gaps.

  • Rates of the disease dropped by 98% when widespread social distancing and masking precautions were in place, per the Mercury.

Zoom in: At two of the region's three pediatric in-patient units, Chippenham Hospital and St. Mary's Hospital, all the beds were full as of Friday, the Times-Dispatch reported this weekend.

  • Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU is operating at 95% capacity.

🦠 Threat level: While RSV cases are worse in young children, most kids who are infected recover at home without requiring hospitalization, according to the Mercury.

  • Public health experts recommend staying up to date on vaccinations, including COVID-19 boosters and flu shots.

Experts also recommend a dose of common sense.

  • "I think everybody needs a big old sign that says: 'Do not kiss my baby,'" Samuel Deel, a pediatrician with Ballad Health Medical Associates, told the Mercury.

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