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Southern California hospitals see spike in young children with respiratory virus

A respiratory virus that is most likely to land young children and other vulnerable individuals in the hospital appears to be rearing its head earlier than usual, with doctors across the country reporting an increase in number of patients this time of year and, in some cases, overwhelming pediatric hospitals.

From Los Angeles to Orange County and the Inland Empire, doctors at local hospitals say they, too, are seeing an increase in respiratory syncytial virus cases, or RSV. And while not all hospitals are overwhelmed yet with these patients, they are urging parents to take commonsense precautions to keep their children from getting infected.

RSV is a common virus that typically results in mild, cold-like symptoms for most healthy people. However, children under 2 – especially premature babies and those with chronic lung disease – senior citizens and individuals who are immunocompromised are most at risk of more severe illness, health experts say.

RSV also is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, an inflammation of airways in the lungs, and pneumonia among infants under 1 year old, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Anyone can get it, but who ends up in the hospital? The very young and the old,” said Dr. Daisy Dodd, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, who practices in Orange County.

At Children’s Health of Orange County Mission Hospital (CHOC), emergency room doctor James Keany described a “flood of patients” coming to the Mission Viejo hospital recently with RSV. Many are being admitted, he said, “and it’s already filling up our children’s hospital.”

Recently, the 12-bed intensive care unit at CHOC Mission Hospital has had four to eight children with RSV on any given day, Keany said. Most are on a high-flow oxygen system similar to a ventilator, he said.

While RSV surges don’t typically occur until well into winter, doctors around Southern California say they have noticed an increase in cases in the past month.

“The pediatric floor is full. A good portion of the patients are due to RSV and Influenza-A (cases),” Dodd said of the facility where she works. “Usually we have the peak of RSV in January/February. We’re seeing it much earlier. The cases started to increase significantly in the past three to four weeks.”

Marisa Glucoft, executive director of quality and safety at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, also reported an increase in cases for this time of year.

“Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is seeing a surge of RSV cases unseasonably earlier than normal,” Glucoft said in a statement Friday, Oct. 21. “The positivity rate for children tested for RSV is currently 31%. In comparison, the positivity rate for RSV last winter peaked at 24%.”

At Dignity Health – Northridge Hospital Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley, Dr. Rishma Chand, who works in the pediatric intensive care unit, said the staff is seeing “many more cases earlier on and in larger amounts” – even more than in pre-pandemic times.

She attributed this to young children being kept from exposure to such viruses the past couple of years when most people stayed home and took extra precautions to limit virus spread during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as things have reopened, RSV cases are increasing.

“Kids are back in school, people are indoors,” Chand said, listing reasons for the increase in cases.

There is no vaccine for the general population, medical experts say. However, the same precautions taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus could be applied to reduce the risk of catching or spreading RSV, they say.

That means frequent hand-washing, wearing masks in large gatherings, keeping a sick child home and avoiding those who are sick, especially if you have young children or live with someone who may be more at risk of being hospitalized if they catch the virus, they say.

RSV is “highly, highly contagious” and “spreads like wildfire,” Keany said.

Medical experts say anyone can become infected with RSV. But most older children and adults will only experience mild symptoms and may mistakenly think they have the common cold.

Chand said if a child only has mild symptoms like a runny nose or fever, and the symptoms can be managed with a typical pain reliever such as Tylenol, there’s likely no need to be concerned.

However, if the child is lethargic, not eating, drinking or urinating, or is having difficulty breathing, or if their skin starts turning blue, a parent should seek medical attention for the child, she said.

Dr. Chad Vercio, chair of pediatrics at Riverside University Health System Medical Center, said there were five patients at his hospital with RSV on Friday and that while his hospital is not overwhelmed with cases at the moment, it could happen as winter approaches – a sentiment echoed by Chand.

RSV surges tend to start on the East Coast before heading west.

At Connecticut Children’s Hospital, for example, a hospital official recently told CNN that their beds were filled to capacity and that an “unprecedented” number of children were visiting the facility.

According to the CDC, about 58,000 children under 5 with RSV are hospitalized, and about 100 to 300 children in this age group die, in the U.S. each year.

While encouraging parents to pay attention to their children’s condition if they become sick, Vercio cautioned against panic at this point despite accounts of increased RSV cases.

Most people infected with RSV recover. “I don’t think it’s something to be worried about,” Vercio said. “The kids with RSV almost always do well.”

SCNG reporter Tess Sheets contributed reporting.


Source: Orange County Register

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