Health leaders sound the alarm, call for federal emergency response to RSV surge hitting children

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Friday, November 18, 2022
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With cases of RSV surging and no relief in sight, doctors are calling on the Biden administration to declare an emergency response. Toni Yates has the details.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- With cases of RSV surging and no relief in sight, doctors are calling on the Biden administration to declare an emergency response.

The respiratory virus can affect anyone, but it is the very young who are most vulnerable and now the surge is hitting toddlers.

"Normally you'd have that germ in the first one or two years of life, but maybe they didn't catch it and now they are 3 or 4 and introduced to it for the first time," said Dr. Elizabeth Murray with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Murray says, in a nutshell, families should take no chances and watch for symptoms.

"So we've got a lot of children full of mucus, coughing, having some trouble breathing, most of them due to this ESV germ," Murray said. "The symptoms of all those germs have some similarities but there are actually pretty different."

She said the best way to tell if it is RSV or COVID is to take a COVID test.

And with holiday gatherings upon us, families should make health-related choices about how to play it safest.

"When we had masking and distancing, we saw a lot fewer respiratory illnesses," Murray said "So maybe we don't hug and kiss that new baby as we get to see them over the holidays, we keep our distance a little bit so we're helping to keep those little ones extra safe."

The winter flu season usually doesn't get going until December or January. Hospitalization rates from flu haven't been this high this early since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, CDC officials say. The highest rates are among those 65 and older and children under 5, the agency said.

"It's so important for people at higher risk to get vaccinated," the CDC's Lynnette Brammer said in a statement Friday.

But flu vaccinations are down from other years, particularly among adults, possibly because the past two seasons have been mild. Flu shots are recommended for nearly all Americans who are at least 6 months old or older.

Adults can get RSV too and that infection can be especially dangerous for older adults who are frail or have chronic illnesses, doctors say. There is not yet a vaccine against RSV although some are in development.

One infectious disease specialist urged Americans to take precautions before gathering for Thanksgiving, including avoiding public crowds, getting COVID-19 tests before they meet, and wearing masks indoors - particularly if you are old or frail, or will be around someone who is.

"Nobody wants to bring a virus to the table," said Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children's Hospital Association this week urged the Biden administration to declare an emergency and mount a national response to "the alarming surge of pediatric respiratory illnesses.'' An emergency declaration would allow waivers of Medicaid, Medicare or Children's Health Insurance Program requirements so that doctors and hospitals could share resources and access emergency funding, the groups said in a letter.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

ALSO READ | Doctor explains why kids are getting hit harder and earlier with RSV

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