RSV surge in children's hospitals

Increasing Numbers of RSV Cases Have Parents and Hospitals Worried

As the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, spreads across Kansas and puts kids in the hospital, it’s a hard time for many parents of young children. This year, the virus, which is very contagious, is spreading earlier than usual.

Since there is no cure for RSV, paediatric medical staff spends a lot of time making sure hospitalized kids can breathe and get the oxygen and fluids they need to stay hydrated.

“There’s no magic medication to get rid of it. Antibiotics aren’t going to help us out, so it is supportive care. Suctioning helping infants keep their airways clear. We use a lot of suctioning devices to help get the mucus out of their nose so that they’re able to feed better,” Dr. Stephanie Kuhlmann, Pediatric Hospitalist at Wesley Medical Center.

RSV is affecting children’s hospitals like the Wesley Children’s Hospital. “I would say the vast majority of paediatric patients hospitalised at the moment have RSV,” said Dr. Kuhlmann.

She said that the most busy time of the year is RSV. It’s a yearly virus that usually shows up in late November or early December, but this year it came out early.

Dr. Kuhlmann said, “Don’t know that the volume right now is any different than historic RSV seasons, but certainly, we’re seeing it, and who knows how it’s going to peak. I will say this is a little earlier than normal. Prior to COVID, RSV seasons would usually hit late November, early December. This year it kind of hit at the end of September. Definitely in October, so it’s a little earlier onset this year, which I think took us by surprise. We were coming out of all the summer respiratory viruses, and so we didn’t really have that transition period that we have.”

Sawyer, who belongs to Shawna Rangel, has been alive for almost six months. She is getting better after a bad case of RSV. “When it does hit your kids, and their body can’t fight it, the only way to describe it is a nightmare,” said Rangel. “You just pray and pray.”

Rangel said that she saw Sawyer struggling to breathe and eat a little more than a week ago. She also had a very high fever. “She couldn’t even cry. Her cry wasn’t even a normal cry. She couldn’t even get the breath out of her to cry,” said Rangel.

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After several trips to the hospital, where Rangel said they were sent back home, she took Sawyer to another hospital, where he was finally admitted and given an IV. Her mother said that an x-ray of her chest showed that the baby’s left lung wasn’t working right and that she wasn’t breathing on her own. She needed a lot of oxygen. Sawyer was then taken by helicopter to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

“(I) sat on her bed and just begged God not to take her,” recalls Rangel. “I did not think she was going to make it out.” Rangel said that Sawyer was stabilised by the medical team and that she soon started breathing on her own.

“She woke up, and even the hospital told us, ‘the baby we’re looking at now is a totally different baby than what you brought us,’” Rangel remembers. Dr. Kuhlmann said that RSV could be hard on babies in particular.

“They can just get a lot of mucus and debris in those airways, swelling of those airways, which can cause some wheezing, some airway obstruction,” she said. “Certainly causes them to have increased breathing where they’re breathing harder, faster. May not be able to feed as well. May need some oxygen support. May not be able to maintain their oxygen saturation. We call it bronchiolitis, but you can think of it as a viral pneumonia.”

Dr. Kuhlmann said that parents can buy suction or aspirator devices at the pharmacy and use them at home to clear mucus and clear the airways. She said it is especially important before feeding. She also told me to watch for signs that I might need medical help.

“Things we look for are retractions, where you can kind of see the spaces in between their ribs or underneath their ribs or really using their belly muscles to breathe,” said Dr. Kuhlmann.

Sawyer is back at home, and even though she still has a cough and a runny nose, she is feeling better and can play with her siblings again. Her mother said that RSV affected four of her five children, but Sawyer and her twin sister were the ones who were most affected. There is a GoFundMe page set up to help the family pay for medical bills.

“I pray for any parent that has a child go through RSV, especially being so little, babies; their bodies cannot handle it. You read stories, and you’re like they’re sick, but when it happens, to where you don’t think your baby is going to survive, it’s the worse nightmare,” said Rangel.

RSV is easy to pass on, and by the time a child is two, most of them have had it. Dr. Kuhlmann said that the best way to avoid getting sick is to do simple things like wash your hands, clean surfaces, and stay away from crowded places, especially if you have a baby.

She said, “Certainly if you have a very young infant, I would keep them at home during this peak season. Just keep them away from public places, crowded places. Using Lysol, Clorox wipes just to wipe down as you can.”

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