When does this count as a crisis, physicians ask of capacity issues at children's hospitals

Children's hospitals across the U.S. are being inundated with patients sick with respiratory viruses. 

Seattle Children's Hospital is the latest to report "unprecedented demand" in its emergency department, The Seattle Times reported Sept. 27. 

"On a day-by-day basis, we're busier than we've ever been," Tony Woodward, MD, medical director of emergency medicine at the hospital, told the news outlet.

An influx of kids sick with flu, respiratory syncytial virus and enterovirus are driving the demand. Children's New Orleans is "as full as we've ever been," hospital officials recently told local news outlets recently. And in Illinois, the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital is having to decline transfer requests from community hospitals as it struggles to keep beds open. 

The CDC in a Sept. 9 advisory said hospitals across several regions had reported increases in the number of children hospitalized with severe respiratory illness in August. The agency has also warned about a rise in infections caused by enterovirus D68 — a strain tied to a rare, polio-like complication called acute flaccid myelitis. Data from the CDC's New Vaccine Surveillance Network shows more than 5,600 children and adolescents with acute respiratory illness sought emergency care or required hospitalization from March 1 to Sept. 20, the agency said in a report published Sept. 27. As of Sept. 20, rhinovirus/enterovirus was detected in 26.4 percent of those patients, among whom 17.4 percent tested positive for EV-D68, the report said. 

"I've been wondering for a while now when the unprecedented volume of children needing to be hospitalized for common viruses is going to count as a crisis," Dr. Lisa Iannattone, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Montreal in Canada, wrote in a Sept. 27 tweet. "Why is this happening? What's the threshold to show concern about this phenomenon? To investigate it?" 

Her post was accompanied by a screenshot of a collection of tweets from U.S. healthcare workers calling attention to the rise in sick children and hospital capacity issues. 

"Has anybody noticed that children's hospitals are overflowing?" Maya Maxym, MD, a physician at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu, tweeted.

Jake Kane, MD, pediatric care specialist at UChicago Medicine, replied to the tweet: "We have been tweeting about this for weeks," linking back to a post in late August that said were "literally no open [pediatric intensive care unit beds] in and around the city of Chicago." 

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