Concerns grow over pediatric hospitalizations from triple threat of RSV, COVID, flu

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ByJim Dolan via WABC logo
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
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Children's hospitals in the Tri-State area and parts of the U.S. are seeing a surge in a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Jim Dolan has more.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Children's hospitals in the Tri-State area and parts of the U.S. are seeing a surge in a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies.

RSV cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, daycares, and businesses. With restrictions easing in the summer of 2021, doctors saw an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus.

Now, it's back again, and doctors are bracing for the possibility that RSV, flu, and COVID-19 could combine to stress hospitals.

Pediatric wards across the country are filling up with children who are having trouble breathing. Roughly three times more children have been hospitalized than normal. Kids like 5-month-old Bentley Phillips.

"It started with wheezing, he progressed so fast, his oxygen was so low that we don't know what would've happened if we were home any longer than we were," mother Jazilyn Phillips said.

Bentley has RSV, a virus that often presents with more severe symptoms in children than adults, and RSV makes up some portion of the cases filling hospitals.

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But pediatric cases of seasonal flu and COVID are also taking up beds.

On Tuesday, at least 80% of pediatric beds were filled in 14 states across the country. Babies have more trouble than adults with upper respiratory illness.

"Really small babies have a harder time in clearing their own congestion, they can't sneeze, they can't cough as hard, they don't have the chest muscles to really expel all that so this why kids are at increased risk when it comes to RSV, influenza at getting hospitalized," Stanford Children's Health.

But what should worried parents do?

"The first thing I would recommend to parents is what I've done as a parent, is gotten my kids vaccinated because if you can get them vaccinated against the flu and COVID that takes two of the issues off the table better, it also creates more capacity in the health care system and it just makes it better for everybody," White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said.

The federal government is preparing in case hospitals start having trouble keeping up.

"We're really tracking health care capacity very very closely across pediatric hospitals and obviously if hospitals need help, we will step in and help them to make sure all kids across America get the care they need," Dr. Jha said.

In New York, it is the flu that hospitals are seeing in larger than normal numbers, and experts say the children who get the sickest from the flu, just like with COVID, are the children who are not vaccinated for it.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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