Children’s hospitals in Louisiana reported an increase in admissions ahead of the usual winter surge this year. And while COVID-19 is still around, SARS-CoV-2 isn’t fueling most admissions and emergency room visits, according to data from Children’s Hospital New Orleans.
Here are the viruses that pediatricians see appearing most frequently:
Rhinoviruses and Enteroviruses
These viruses usually cause symptoms associated with the common cold. The two viruses cause similar symptoms and are indistinguishable from each other on the tests that most hospitals use.
Tests for these two viruses at two major children’s hospitals in New Orleans and Baton Rouge come back positive between 40 and 50 percent of the time, which explains most of the recent spike in illness.
These viruses are usually not serious in healthy children and are not responsible for many hospital or intensive care unit admissions. Children can usually recover at home, according to pediatricians.
Enterovirus was the subject of a federal health advisory earlier this month due to an increase in cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that a particular strain of enterovirus called D68 causes more severe disease, including acute flaccid myelitis, a rare but serious neurological complication involving limb weakness. Most hospitals do not have sophisticated enough tests to determine a patient’s enterovirus strain.
Flu season typically heats up in October, but Children’s Hospital New Orleans — Louisiana’s largest children’s hospital — sees positive results in about 1 in 5 patients who receive the test. Doctors recommend children over 6 months old get the flu shot every year by the end of October.
According to the CDC, about 8% of the population catches the flu each season. The incidence rate in children is somewhat higher, at about 9.3%. In some particularly bad flu years, the rate reached around 19% in children under 4 years old.
About one in ten tests came back positive at New Orleans Children’s Hospital for the adenovirus, which causes cold symptoms including fever, sore throat, pneumonia, pink eyes and sometimes stomach problems.
Federal health authorities are also investigating a link between adenovirus infection and liver inflammation of unknown cause in some children.
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is the disease that causes the most serious admissions, including intensive care, according to pediatricians. At a children’s hospital in Baton Rouge, the test positivity rate has reached 21% in recent weeks.
Newborns and children under 6 months are most at risk for severe cases of RSV. Other young children with lung problems or immune system problems are also at higher risk.
Almost all children will be infected with RSV before the age of 2 years. One to two in 100 children under 6 months infected with RSV may need to be hospitalized. Most improve and are discharged within days with supportive care.
COVID-19 continues to appear in children, although rates are not as high as they once were. About 2% of COVID tests come back positive at New Orleans Children’s Hospital in recent weeks.
Although children older than 6 months are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, the majority of young children in Louisiana are unvaccinated. About 2% of children under four in the state have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
To avoid most respiratory illnesses, the CDC recommends the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or utensils with sick people and when you are sick.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the top of your shirt sleeve, not your hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Consider wearing a mask around other people if you have respiratory symptoms.
- Contact a health care provider immediately if you or your child have difficulty breathing or develop sudden limb weakness.
- Make sure you or your child have an up-to-date asthma action plan if you or your child have asthma.
- Stay up to date with all recommended vaccines.