RSV, Other Viruses Making it Hard to Find a Bed in Children’s Hospitals 

Washington Post | By Fenit Nirappil and Ariana Eunjung Cha

Children’s hospitals are under strain in the United States as they care for unusually high numbers of kids infected with RSV and other respiratory viruses.

It’s the latest example of how the pandemic has upended the usual seasonal patterns of respiratory illnesses, denying a respite for health-care professionals ahead of a potential hectic winter as the coronavirus, influenza and other viruses collide.

Respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of cold-like illness in young children known as RSV, started surging in late summer, months before its typical season from November to early spring. This month, the United States has been recording about 5,000 cases per week, according to federal data, which is on par with last year but far higher than October 2020, when more coronavirus restrictions were in effect and very few people were getting RSV.

“It’s very hard to find a bed in a children’s hospital — specifically an intensive care unit bed for a kid with bad pneumonia or bad RSV because they are so full,” said Jesse Hackell, a doctor who chairs the committee on practice and ambulatory medicine for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Nearly three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are occupied, according to federal health data. Rhode Island, the District of Columbia and Delaware report more than 94 percent of pediatric beds occupied. Maine, Arizona, Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Missouri reported between 85 and 90 percent of beds occupied. The data is limited to facilities that report the information.

Several children’s hospitals in the D.C. area have been at capacity for weeks; 18 children were waiting for a room in the ICU on Tuesday at Children’s National in the District.

D.C. Realtor Kate Foster-Bankey was more attuned to RSV after she started hearing from clients whose children were afflicted with the virus in recent weeks, including one whose child was admitted to Children’s National.

Then her 3-year-old daughter Isabelle fell ill, becoming lethargic, complaining of a fast heartbeat and not eating. They waited two hours in the packed waiting room of a pediatric urgent-care center where Foster-Bankey, a mother of four, was used to seeing only a handful of patients.

During a follow-up visit Tuesday, Isabelle was transported by ambulance to the emergency room of a children’s hospital, where she tested positive for RSV and had to wait until the following morning for a bed.

“It sounds like in covid, we gutted our pediatric care,” said Foster-Bankey, 41. “Kids shouldn’t have to wait in a waiting room with a bunch of other sick kids for hours.”

At Connecticut Children’s Hospital, the emergency room is so full that patients are being triaged in hallways. Teens with bone fractures and appendicitis are being diverted or transferred to adult-care centers to create additional space for respiratory patients. Hospital officials are considering the possibility of enlisting the National Guard to set up tents and care for the influx of patients.

Over the past nine days, 110 children with RSV have come in to the emergency room, and at times as many as 25 children with RSV were waiting for an inpatient bed, said Juan Salazar, physician in chief at Connecticut Children’s. He said that for the first time in his career he has had to mandate doctors in other specialties such as endocrinology and rheumatology work with RSV patients — a situation reminiscent of the “all hands on deck” approach many adult hospitals took in March 2020, when the coronavirus began to sweep through the United States.

“During my tenure here I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Salazar, who has worked in infectious diseases for 30 years.

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