October 25, 2022

Rise in child RSV cases may cause hospital capacity strain in the winter

By: Tarsilla Moura

Editor's Note

A “sharp rise” in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this fall is worrying staff at US hospitals, who fear what may happen to the capacity of hospitals and other healthcare facilities if RSV, influenza, and COVID-19 infections peak around the same time this winter, The Washington Post October 23 reports.

Capacity strains might disproportionally occur at children’s hospitals, the article noted. RSV, a common respiratory virus that mostly causes cold-like symptoms, primarily affects children; while adults can “usually brush off RSB in a week or two,” according to the article, young children have a harder time recovering. Because of their smaller airways, inflammation affects children more severely, and they are more likely to need oxygen or treatment at a healthcare facility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 58,000 children under 5 are hospitalized annually in the US because of RSV infection, and between 100 and 500 children under 5 die of RSV every year. Elizabeth Mack, head of the pediatric critical-care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina, told The Washington Post that “children’s hospitals…are drowning right now,” and that RSV is the most common reason why infants are hospitalized. According to Mack, the season for RSV usually starts in October, but the wave this year began as early as August.

RSV symptoms include fever, runny nose, coughing, and difficult breathing, which makes it “almost impossible” to differentiate it from flu- or COVID-like symptoms, Thomas Murray, associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine who specializes in pediatric infectious disease, told The Washington Post. According to Murray, sanitizing areas frequently touched by children is recommended since RSV spreads more via surfaces rather than droplets.

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