RSV wave sweeps Chicago-area children’s hospitals

RSV wave sweeps Chicago-area children’s hospitals

Children with the respiratory disease RSV are filling Chicago-area children’s hospitals, leading to longer emergency room waits, occasionally delayed surgeries, and difficulty transferring pediatric patients between hospitals.

RSV, short for respiratory syncytial virus, can cause a runny nose, cough and fever, and in most people it is mild and clears up within a week or two. But sometimes it can be more serious, especially among babies, causing pneumonia and inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. Each year, about 1% to 2% of babies younger than 6 months who become infected with RSV may need hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RSV often increases during the late fall and winter, but this year it arrived early and some older children are also getting sick from it. It comes to the top early swelling of other respiratory diseases which kept children’s hospitals in the Chicago area full for months.

“We are in a major crisis and absolutely need all hands on deck for our children!!!,” Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer of Advocate Children’s Hospital, tweeted Thursday in response to a tweet about similar waves in other countries. parts of the country.

In Chicago, the percentage of emergency room visits by children younger than 5 due to RSV is about 10 times higher now than at the same time in 2019, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

“We are coming out of a pandemic where many children were not exposed because we were socially isolated and trying to protect ourselves,” said Dr. Marcelo Malakooti, ‚Äč‚Äčassistant chief medical officer at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “There was a preponderance of children who may not have been exposed to the virus before, and this may be the first time.”

Some doctors compared this wave of RSV to what adult hospitals faced in March 2020.

The University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital has been full for 53 days in a row. As of Sept. 1, Comer was able to accept more than 670 sick children transferred from other hospitals, but had to turn away about 500 other transfer requests because it had no more beds available, Comer leaders said in an email sent to all Chicago Medicine staff and faculty. October 27.

In recent years, many hospitals in the Chicago area have closed their pediatric clinicswhich means that when they get very sick children, they often have to transfer them somewhere else.

“Unfortunately, some of these children ended up being transferred to hospitals as far away as St. Louis,” Comer leaders said in an email to all staff, about the children it could not take from other hospitals.

Comer is also seeing about 150% more patients in its emergency department than it did this time last year. In just one month, from September to October of this year, Comer recorded an increase in the number of patients visiting the emergency room by about 32%.

“It’s very difficult,” said Dr. John Cunningham, chief medical officer at Comer. He noted that in the past many children with severe cases of RSV were 1 or 2 years old. Now the hospital accepts children aged 4 and 5. “Kids have cocooned in the last few years (and) now they’re getting RSV late.”

Lurie Children’s Hospital is also operating at full capacity, meaning all of its beds are mostly full, Malakooti said. So far, Lurie has had two RSV deaths this season, he said. Each year in the US, about 100 to 300 children under the age of 5 die from RSV.

Lurie had to turn down more requests for transfers from other hospitals than usual.

Both Comer and Lurie postponed some surgeries to keep more beds open. Hospitals have also had to place some children in emergency rooms, which means keeping them in emergency room beds until beds open up elsewhere in hospitals.

“It’s clearly overburdening pediatric health systems,” Malakooti said.

RSV rates are also high in other parts of the country, with some hospitals in other states allegedly they are setting up tents outside their emergency rooms, putting children in rooms and considering calling in the National Guard for backup.

Doctors at Lurie and Comer say they didn’t need to take any of those steps at this point. They are, however, trying to be creative.

The University of Chicago Medicine is asking medical staff who normally care for adults to volunteer overtime shifts working with children at Comer.

In the late afternoon and evening, Comer tries to use part of his fourth floor as a “fast-track” area for children who arrive at the emergency room with less serious illnesses, to take the pressure off the emergency room. It is also moving some older pediatric patients to adult beds at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Comer is also considering converting some of its regular beds to intensive care beds.

Despite the large number of children with RSV, Malakooti said cases have not yet peaked and the situation could get worse before it gets better.

Children’s hospitals are also preparing for the flu season, which some predict will be the worst in years. The risk of flu infection remained low in Chicago in the week ending Oct. 22, although it was on the rise, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Pediatricians urge parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against the flu. Doctors say parents should keep their children home if they are sick, make sure they wash their hands, call pediatricians if their children are sick and bring them to the emergency room if it’s an emergency.

“We’re very concerned and we’re preparing for it as best we can,” Cunningham said.

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