Hospitals report 300% increase in RSV cases

A surge in respiratory syncytial virus is putting severe strain on children's hospitals nationwide. Hospitals first began seeing the unseasonable RSV rise in August. Now, many are reporting a case increase of over 300 percent compared to last month.

On Sept. 8, CDC data shows the nation's RSV positivity rate (based on antigen tests) was around 8 percent. By Oct. 15, the positivity rate jumped to more than 15 percent. Since reporting delays are expected, the CDC notes data for the most recent weeks may be less complete. Nonetheless, children's hospitals are struggling to handle the unrelenting surge. 

"We were not this busy during the first omicron surge; we never got to these proportions," Charles Schleien, MD, chair of pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in the Queens borough of New York City, told The New York Times. "It's been well over 10 years since it's been like this." 

Cohen Children's is part of New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health. So far this month, the system's 21 New York hospitals have treated about 300 percent more RSV patients than they did in September, a spokesperson told the Times in an Oct. 27 report. At Cohen Children's, the ER has seen about 250 kids every day for the last few weeks. That's up from the usual volume of about 175 to 200, with as many 30 to 40 being admitted for RSV every day, Dr. Schleien said. 

The same situation is playing out at children's hospitals nationwide. Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Helen DeVos Children's Hospital has seen a 385 percent increase in RSV cases over the last month, local ABC affiliate WZZM reported Oct. 27. To handle more patients, the hospital has expanded its intensive care unit. 

"You may see care happening in more non-traditional spaces of the hospital. You may also be sharing a room with a patient, and that's not typically something we've done in the past, but to increase our bed capacity, it's one of our solutions," said Andrea Hadley, MD, chief of pediatric hospital medicine at DeVos Children's.

Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis earlier this month started restricting visitors due to the surge of patients sick with RSV, rhinovirus and enterovirus. On Oct. 4, the hospital told local NBC affiliate WTHR it was treating 83 patients with respiratory isolation orders and that 76 kids were diagnosed with RSV in the week prior, marking a 300 percent increase compared to the same time last year. 

Physicians usually rely on supportive care to treat patients, given the lack of approved treatment options for RSV. The main supportive care techniques are providing oxygen, IV fluids and pain relief drugs, physicians told Becker's.

While hospitals are already struggling to handle this surge, concerns of a 'tripledemic' are brewing. Flu season is already off to an early start, and many health experts anticipate a  COVID-19 surge in the winter months. Most COVID-19 testing is now done at home, making case data a less reliable indicator of how much the virus is circulating. In New York, hospitalizations have started to rise again. State data cited by the Times shows about 1,100 people hospitalized in New York City on Oct. 24, up from 750 in mid-September.


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