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Triple virus threat: RSV, flu, and COVID-19 push children’s hospitals to limits

Lexie Stroiney, 6, left, Charlie Stroiney, 8, right, and their mom Kate Forte wait in an exam room before Charlie has an MRI during a long day of testing at Children’s National Hospital, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Lexie had COVID-19 but Charlotte did not. Both are part of a NIH-funded multi-year study at Children’s National Hospital to look at impacts of COVID-19 on children’s physical health and quality of life. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Carolyn Kaster/AP

Triple virus threat: RSV, flu, and COVID-19 push children’s hospitals to limits

Abigail Adcox

November 22, 04:00 AM November 22, 04:00 AM

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Children’s hospitals across the country have been pushed to their capacities dealing with an early surge in respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, COVID-19, and flu cases over the past few weeks.

More than three-fourths of pediatric hospital beds across the country are full, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. Over a dozen states across the country are reporting that over 90% of their pediatric beds are occupied, including Massachusetts, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

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“October into the first two weeks of November, we were at 90% plus capacity,” said Dr. Charlotte Boney, pediatrician in chief at Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts. “But last week, we sort of saw a break. We were down to about 75% capacity. Our intensive care unit was still full and closed to outside transfers from outside the area, but our acute care unit had a little more capacity.”

Boney said other hospitals in Massachusetts are experiencing similar capacity levels, with pediatric ICUs remaining near or at capacity. The majority of those cases are children with RSV or another respiratory virus, though hospitals are preparing for an increase in flu that is already being seen in neighboring Connecticut.

Other areas of the country are seeing a large rise in the number of flu cases for this time of year, particularly in the South, combined with high numbers of pediatric respiratory viruses, such as RSV, rhinovirus, and enterovirus, that started going up in September.

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“We’re worried about what the demand is going to be for hospitalizations for flu because it was pretty bad in the southeast and the South,” Boney said. “We’re getting ready, you know, trying to prepare for having to increase our capacity from our current bed numbers. ”

On top of flu and respiratory viruses, children’s hospitals are seeing COVID-19 cases, along with other health problems, including mental health, adding to demand that’s inundating emergency rooms and units.

So far this season, there have been an estimated 4.4 million flu cases, 38,000 hospitalizations, and 2,100 deaths, including seven pediatric deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The highest number of hospitalizations has been among those 65 and older, followed by children under 5 years old.

Capacity problems for children’s hospitals aren’t likely to subside until later this winter thanks to respiratory viruses, the flu, and COVID-19, according to a representative from the Children’s Hospital Association.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association have urged the Biden administration to issue an emergency declaration in light of the strain on children’s hospitals. The declaration would give hospitals more flexibility to manage the influx of patients and free up federal resources.

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