Children with RSV respiratory disease are filling Chicago-area children’s hospitals, leading to longer ER waits, sometimes delayed surgeries and difficulty transferring pediatric patients between hospitals.
RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus, can cause a runny nose, cough, and fever. In most people, it is mild and goes away within a week or two. But sometimes it can be more serious, especially in babies, causing pneumonia and inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. Each year, about 1% to 2% of babies under 6 months old who catch RSV may require hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
RSV often pops up in late fall and winter, but this year it came early and is sickening some older children as well. This adds to an early surge of other respiratory illnesses that have filled Chicago-area children’s hospitals for months.
“We are in a major crisis and we absolutely need everyone on deck for our children!!!” Advocate Children’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Frank Belmonte tweeted Thursday in response. to a tweet regarding similar outbreaks in other parts of the country.
In Chicago, the percentage of emergency room visits by children under age 5 for RSV is about 10 times higher today than at the same time in 2019, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
“We are coming out of a pandemic where a lot of children weren’t exposed because we were socially isolated and trying to protect ourselves,” said Dr Marcelo Malakooti, associate chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital. by Lurie. “There was this preponderance of children who may not have been exposed to the virus before and this may have been the first time.”
Some doctors have compared this RSV surge to what adult hospitals faced in March 2020.
Comer Children’s Hospital of Medicine at the University of Chicago has been full for 53 straight days. Since Sept. 1, Comer has been able to accept more than 670 sick children transferred from other hospitals, but has had to say no to about 500 other transfer requests because he had no more beds available, Comer executives said in a statement. email sent to all. Staff and Chicago Medical School on October 27.
In recent years, many community hospitals in the Chicago area have closed their pediatric inpatient units, which means that when they get very sick children, they often have to transfer them elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, some of these children ended up being transferred to hospitals as far away as St. Louis,” Comer executives said in the all-staff email, of the children he couldn’t take in. other hospitals.
Comer is also seeing about 150% more patients in its emergency department than this time last year. In just one month, from September to October of this year, Comer saw the number of patients visiting the emergency room increase by around 32%.
“It’s very serious,” said Dr John Cunningham, chief medical officer at Comer. He noted that in the past, many children with severe cases of RSV were 1 or 2 years old. Now the hospital receives children of 4 and 5 years old. “Children have been cocooned for the past two years (and) are now getting RSV late.”
Lurie Children’s Hospital is also operating at full capacity, meaning all of its beds are usually full, Malakooti said. Lurie has had two RSV deaths so far this season, he said. Each year in the United States, approximately 100 to 300 children under the age of 5 die from RSV.
Lurie had to turn down more transfer requests from other hospitals than usual.
Both Comer and Lurie have delayed some surgeries to keep more beds open. Hospitals have also had to board some children in emergency rooms, which means keeping them in emergency beds until beds elsewhere in hospitals open up.
“It obviously overburdens pediatric health systems,” Malakooti said.
RSV rates are also high in other parts of the country, with some hospitals in other states apparently setting up tents outside their ERs, doubling up children in rooms and considering calling the National Guard to get help.
Lurie and Comer’s doctors say they haven’t had to take any of these steps at this point. However, they try to be creative.
Medical University of Chicago is asking medical staff who normally care for adults to volunteer for overtime working with children in Comer.
In the late afternoons and evenings, Comer tries to use part of its fourth floor as a ‘fast track’ space for children arriving at the ER with less severe illnesses, to help ease pressure on the ER . It is also transferring some older pediatric patients to adult beds at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Comer is also considering turning some of its regular beds into intensive care beds.
Despite the high number of children with RSV, Malakooti said cases have not yet peaked and the situation may get worse before it gets better.
Children’s hospitals are also preparing for flu season, which some say will be the worst in years. The risk of influenza infection remained low in Chicago for the week ending Oct. 22, although it has increased, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Pediatricians are urging parents to make sure their children get the flu shot. Doctors say parents should keep their kids home if they’re sick, make sure they wash their hands, call their pediatrician if their kids are sick, and get them to the emergency room in case of an emergency.
“We are very worried and we are preparing for it as best we can,” Cunningham said.