Texas Children’s Hospitals Head Into Winter With Wave Of RSV Cases – Houston Public Media

Macie Kelly/Houston Public Media

Pictured is the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

Children’s hospitals across the country are grappling with an early peak in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

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.

Texas pediatricians 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. “In 2019 we had a pretty bad RSV season back then.”

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 should expect a second peak later in the winter.”

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 the Texas Department of State Health 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’s still some capacity left. 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 right now 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.

“As with RSV, we saw the flu start earlier this year in Texas. “But if we get these two 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.”

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

“This is putting a huge 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 could be due to 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.