A spike in RSV cases is causing longer emergency room wait times at Children’s Hospital of UPMC

A spike in RSV cases is causing longer emergency room wait times at Children’s Hospital of UPMC

A spike in the number of babies with the respiratory disease RSV is driving up emergency room wait times at Children’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh, according to officials.

dr. Raymond Pitetti, director of the Children’s Department of Emergency Services, said the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) wave began about six weeks ago and has been increasing steadily.

“RSV is starting to run wild,” he said. “We are also seeing more flu cases, but the increase is not as rapid.”

He said that some children are also positive for covid-19, but in most cases these cases “have stopped”.

In the week of Oct. 17-23, 155 patients tested positive for RSV at Children’s Hospital, where the number of cases has risen by about 15 or 20 a week since Sept. 11, when there were 32.

In the week from October 18 to 24, 2021, there were 31 positive cases of RSV in the hospital.

Pitetti said children taken to the emergency room are quickly triaged by a nurse to determine the severity of their illness, but the time it takes to see a doctor or be admitted to a hospital can be significantly longer.

“The volume in the emergency room was much higher,” he said. “The waiting time can be four to six hours.”

Pitetti said the hospital had no problem finding beds for the children who needed to be admitted.

“At times all our beds are full, but we never postpone a case when that happens,” he said. “We take care of patients in the emergency department until a bed becomes available. Unfortunately, this can take several hours and is frustrating for parents. We feel for them.”

Hospital board members meet regularly to map out plans to deal with the surge in cases that could lead to bed shortages, Pitetti said.

RSV is a common infection that causes cold-like symptoms such as cough, fever and runny nose, said Dr. Joseph Aracri, president of the Allegheny Health Network Pediatric Institute.

“It’s very common, like a cold actually,” he said. “But we are concerned when young babies have it because it can cause inflammation in the lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe.”

Aracri said babies can end up in the hospital because their shortness of breath, along with a runny nose from the illness, can make it difficult to take a feeding bottle and stay hydrated.

But RSV isn’t the only wave of illnesses caused by respiratory viruses sending kids to the doctor, he said.

“You pick one — RSV, the flu, the common cold, and even some cases of covid,” he said. “Outside, everything revolves around. Our pediatric surgeries have been overcrowded, especially in the past week.”

Most children with RSV or other respiratory illnesses who go to one of AHN’s community hospitals are treated there unless the symptoms are severe, Aracri said.

“If the baby seems stable but maybe needs a little support like oxygen or IV fluids until they settle down, that can easily be taken care of at a public hospital,” he said. “But if a doctor sees a case where a baby is very sick and breathing very hard and is in respiratory failure, then he should be in a children’s hospital.”

There is no vaccine for RSV, but symptoms can usually be resolved by letting the virus run its course. Doctors may also prescribe oral steroids or an inhaler to help you breathe.

In the most severe cases, children are admitted to the hospital, where they can receive oxygen, a breathing tube or the help of a ventilator.

While Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh has managed to keep up with the rise in RSV infections among babies, doctors at hospitals in some parts of the country say they are lagging behind.

dr. Juan Salazar of Connecticut Children’s Hospital called the recent surge in RSV cases there “an emergency.” He said the hospital had to move patients to playrooms and other areas not normally used for beds.

dr. Elizabeth Mack of the Medical University of South Carolina said they are “drowning in RSV cases” because the spike this year came earlier than usual.

The rise in RSV cases, Mack said, is the result of an immune system that may not be ready enough to fight the virus after more than two years of masking, which offered protection.

As restrictions on face coverings, social distancing and other measures to mitigate Covid eased, cases of RSV and other viruses increased, she said.

RSV usually leads to about 58,000 hospitalizations and up to 500 deaths per year among children under 5 years of age. Almost all children are infected with RSV by the age of 2 years.

Officials from Excela Health could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Tony can be contacted by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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