Doctors from the nation’s leading children’s hospitals are calling upon the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency in response to this year’s “unprecedented” surge in pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu cases.
In a letter dated November 14, officials from the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics said an “alarming surge” in children being hospitalized for both illnesses is causing “capacity issues” in hospitals throughout the country. They hope an emergency declaration will galvanize the federal government to address this crisis directly.
At this time, more than 75 percent of all pediatric hospital beds in the United States are occupied. Hospitals in Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Utah, and Washington, D.C., are particularly overwhelmed right now, per CNBC.
“The pediatric health care system is doing all it can to meet these overwhelming needs across the continuum of care and taking regional approaches to meet the growing demands,” the letter reads. “We need emergency funding support and flexibilities along the same lines of what was provided to respond to COVID surges.”
As SheKnows previously reported, the U.S. is indeed in the midst of an unparalleled RSV outbreak. This common respiratory virus usually manifests like a common cold in older children, teens, and adults. However, it can lead to more severe illness in high-risk patients, including premature infants, infants younger than 6 months old, immunocompromised children, or children younger than 2 years old with congenital heart or lung disease.
RSV cases usually peak in the winter, so this outbreak is unique in both its scale and timing. Some have theorized that COVID-19-related isolation periods caused an “immunity gap” among young children, who would have otherwise already contracted RSV.
This outbreak is also occurring in tandem with a particularly nasty flu season, which already burdens hospitals. And that’s on the top of the country’s ongoing youth mental health crisis. So it’s easy to see why hospital providers are now requesting further support.
Children who are hospitalized for severe RSV illness may require oxygen, IV fluids, or mechanical ventilation to help them breathe. Luckily, the vast majority of patients “improve with this type of supportive care and are discharged in a few days,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At this juncture, the best thing parents can do to keep their children safe is to prioritize good hygiene. That includes regular hand-washing, proper sneezing and coughing etiquette, disinfecting commonly used surfaces, and keeping your child home from school if they feel ill or lethargic.
These preventative measures are especially vital for any family with a very young infant or immunocompromised child (although, let’s be real — they’re good practices to adopt in general). Parents of vulnerable youth should also consider limiting how much time their child spends in congregate childcare settings during this outbreak. As always, consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific concerns.
Before you go, check out the all-natural cough and cold products we love for kids:
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