Science and Tech


RSV Surge Puts Pressure On Children’s Hospitals

In New York and across the country children's hospitals are struggling with a surge of sick kids due to a respiratory virus.
Posted at 7:11 PM, Oct 21, 2022

Doctors around the country are sounding the alarm. The fall cold and flu season came early, and it's hitting children hard. 

The main concern is over RSV, a respiratory virus that can cause kids to cough uncontrollably. 

"We're seeing that our children's hospitals or our pediatric emergency departments are very busy with really high volumes. Most children do not get very sick when they get viruses. But there are some get very sick and need really extensive care including being on a ventilator," said Dr. Hilary Fairbrother, an emergency physician in Houston, Texas. 

Kids around the country are showing up at emergency rooms with frightening symptoms, struggling to breathe in some cases so short on oxygen their skin turns blue. 

"I'm just grateful because we got to keep her and a lot of innocent — a lot of parents this happens to and a lot of family members this happens to — they don't get to bring their babies home," said Sarah Schmidt, the grandmother of an RSV patient.  

Doctors think pandemic lockdowns could be to blame. Children who have been isolated for so long in their homes and behind masks haven't been as exposed to RSV and a range of other viruses. 

"I suspect it has to do with the pandemic and it has to do with masking and extra precautions that we took over the course of that pandemic," said Dr. Kevin Dahlman, the medical director at Aurora Children's Health. 

The CDC calls the spike in RSV cases "unprecedented" and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says over 70% of pediatric beds are full. 

"We had to go on diversion for a couple of days where basically we were full and we couldn't take emergency admissions from the outside," said Dr. Amy Edwards. a doctor at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Ohio. 

"Diversion" means kids have to be sent to other hospitals, sometimes far from home and sometimes even out of state. 

So what can you do to keep your kids out of the hospital? The advice from doctors is familiar — wash your hands often, mask up when sick and try to limit your exposure. And if your child does get sick, watch for warning signs: blue skin and fast breathing. 

"When you see a child that looks like they are really having trouble breathing to the point where they can't drink from their bottle very well because they have to stop to breathe. That's time to go," said Fairbrother.