Children’s hospitals in North Texas are heading into the winter with a spate of RSV cases

It is a common respiratory virus that presents with cold-like symptoms such as cough, congestion and fever. In infants and older adults, this can cause breathing problems and hospitalizations.

Pediatricians in north Texas say the virus’ peak is unusually early this year.

“Usually we see a peak in December, January, and I think this year we saw the peak in October and early November,” said pediatrician Stephanie Atiyeh of Medical City Children’s Dallas. “We had a pretty bad RSV season back then in 2019.”

Atiyeh says the virus is cyclical, meaning there is a more intense strain every three to five years.

Cook Children’s Medical Center pediatrician Laura Romano says this early peak makes tracking the next few months challenging.

“Because it doesn’t follow a pattern, it’s going to be very difficult to predict how long that’s going to take,” Romano said. “We don’t know if it will peak next week and then cases will go down. We don’t know if there will be a plateau and we don’t know if we can expect a second peak later in the winter.”

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“I hope that we are at the peak of RSV right now and this specific virus will gradually die off,” Atiyeh said. “But I think we’re also going to see some flu and other respiratory viruses running around.”

Nationwide capacity could become an issue

For the week of November 12, the state reported an 18% positivity rate on antigen detection tests, according to CDC data. That’s compared to more than 25% about four weeks ago.

But the spread of the disease – combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and an early onset of the flu – has hospital officials worried as winter approaches.

Chris Van Deusen, the communications director for Texas Health and Human Services, said about 300 children’s hospital beds were available statewide as of Wednesday. But the number of occupied pediatric intensive care units Beds available is 67.

“There is still capacity. And of course, hospitals also have contingency plans and resources to fall back on in an emergency or disaster situation,” he said.

Van Deusen said the state is still grappling with hundreds of COVID cases, but the crowd has stabilized.

“We have about 1,000 people hospitalized with COVID. And for kids, that’s just 44,” he said.

Van Deusen said RSV and flu cases in Texas rose earlier this season than in previous years, which could create problems for hospitals if those trends continue.

“Like RSV, we saw the onset of the flu earlier this year in Texas. And I think the concern is that we’ve seen RSV go up and then come back and we’ve seen the flu go up,” he said. “But if we get both things going at the same time, it obviously increases concern about the healthcare system and hospital capacity. Thankfully, it looks like they’re moving in different directions at the moment.”

Influenza, COVID-19 and RSV cases affect children at the same time

Both Atiyeh and Romano are also concerned about flu and COVID-19 cases that are still hospitalizing people.

“This is putting a very heavy strain on the hospital system and it’s not just affecting Cook Children’s,” said Romano. “Every single hospital system in the country is feeling the weight of RSV and the flu right now.”

Romano says she has treated patients with flu and COVID, as well as RSV and COVID.

“It’s very difficult to figure out which symptoms could be due to which virus, especially in young babies,” she said. “If it’s a fever, it can be from all three, and young children can’t tell you they have trouble smelling or muscle pain.”

While some symptoms can be treated at home, Atiyeh says if children have trouble breathing, it’s a sign to take them to the emergency room. In infants, RSV can interfere with feeding and the ability to stay hydrated. Romano says that dry diapers, babies who don’t cry when they cry, and sunken sores are signs of dehydration and RSV.

If younger children have cold symptoms, Romano and Atiyeh recommend keeping them at home to stop the spread of the virus, in addition to good hand hygiene and the use of masks.

Julian Aguilar contributed to this report.

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