'As full as we've ever been': Respiratory illnesses burden US children's hospitals

Children's hospitals in the U.S. are experiencing unseasonable capacity issues amid an influx of children sick with flu, enterovirus and respiratory syncytial virus.

"It's kind of the triple whammy, to be honest with you right now. We're seeing enterovirus, we're seeing influenza, we're seeing RSV — thankfully we're not seeing very much COVID right now," Mark Kline, MD, chief medical officer at Children's Hospital New Orleans, told WVUE Fox 8 Sept. 14. 

"We're as full as we've ever been right now and most of it is respiratory disease and a lot of it is enterovirus," Dr. Kline said. The hospital's test positivity rate for enterovirus and rhinovirus is currently above 40 percent — what Dr. Kline called an "extraordinary figure." 

He said it's not known whether patients at Children's Hospital New Orleans have enterovirus D68, a strain tied to a rare polio-like complication called acute flaccid myelitis. The CDC last week issued an alert to providers about EV-D68 and the associated complication. The agency said hospitals across several regions in August had reported increases in the number of children hospitalized with severe respiratory illness.

It's unusual to see influenza this early in the season, Dr. Kline said. The same is true with RSV, which usually spikes in the winter months. 

Children's hospitals in Illinois are reporting the same. University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital is seeing about double the amount of kids in its emergency department each day than it usually does at this time of year, many of whom are admitted for a few days. The hospital is having to decline transfer requests from community hospitals as it struggles to keep beds open. 

"This is the most challenging period we've experienced since March 2020," John Cunningham, MD, physician-in-chief at the hospital, told the Chicago Tribune. 

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