NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- A recent surge in children's respiratory viruses is starting to fill up pediatric ERs and push the health system toward capacity.
An urgent health care crisis has emerged as spikes in cases of the enterovirus and rhinovirus have led to more children being taken to pediatric emergency rooms.
"A two-week period ago we started to see a surge in our admissions and a surge in our ER volumes throughout the state," said Dr. Uzma Hasan, director of pediatric infection disease at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.
Four states, including New Jersey, have witnessed that surge and it comes as kids are back in school, in group settings, tightly packed and not wearing masks.
Parents are urged to be cautious.
"If your child is acting out of the norm and you are seeing that they're kind of lethargic, not interested in feeding or playing and their struggling with breathing, you see their nose flaring, you see them belly breathing you must seek care immediately," Hasan said.
Marissa Torres said her youngest son, Marcello, was complaining about feeling ill and she knew to take immediate action.
They went to the doctor who sent them right to the emergency room.
"Having a lot of difficulty just breathing on his own, a lot of coughing, he said he had a headache and a stomachache so immediately I said we have to go to the doctor," Torres said.
The viruses are not unusual, but the rise in cases has been rapid. Experts say likely factors behind the spike are the time of year and children haven't been exposed to as much illness in the last few years due to pandemic protocols.
"We have seen some children with no history of wheezing of coughing before who are coming in with rapidly progressing illness," Hasan said.
Marcello was hospitalized for four days and his blood oxygen level dropped into the high 80s. He is now home recovering and back in school, but kids with respiratory illness, asthma and children born prematurely are at greater risk.
The New Jersey Department of Health is keeping a close eye on hospitalizations.
"We don't want our hospital systems to get overwhelmed with surges and with kids who are asthmatic," Hasan said.
The health department released the following statement:
"The state is monitoring and watching hospitalizations and pediatric intensive care unit census daily throughout the state. The NJ Health Department is in close contact with hospitals and recently held a call with hospital officials. The Department has issued a public health message for healthcare providers to increase provider awareness of rhinovirus and enterovirus, recommend testing, appropriate isolation, and to report suspected outbreaks to local health department; and to be aware of acute flaccid myelitis as well. The CDC also has recommendations on enteroviruses for the public: handwashing; avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact with people who are sick; covering coughs/sneezes; cleaning/disinfecting frequently touched surfaces; staying home when sick and keeping sick children out of schools."
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