CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina said a record number of children are being hospitalized in the United States, because of respiratory viruses like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.
Cory Robertson of Mount Pleasant knows all too well the effect these viruses can have on a baby. He and his family all got sick earlier this month, but it was his baby son, Liam, who was hit the hardest.
“I came in one evening and my wife said he’s really laboring to breathe, and we kind of noticed his chest was flexing and moving a little bit,” said Robertson.
Liam had a case of the respiratory syncytial virus. The infant, just seven weeks old, was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. Robertson said the baby spent more than a week in the hospital.
According to the experts, this year’s surge in cases has appeared earlier than usual. The spike typically happens in the early winter months.
“What’s unusual about this year is the number of patients that we have who are critically ill all in a short period of time,” said Dr. Allison Eckard, the Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. “Likely related to people going back to school and intermingling, perhaps for the first time in quite a while.”
If a child contracts one of these viruses, doctors said symptoms can include fever, fast breathing, retractions, as well as if they are making a grunting or humming noise.
“We tend to like children to go to the emergency department or urgent care sooner than some of those late signs,” said Dr. Eckard.
The Robertsons reacted to Liam’s symptoms quickly and now he’s doing a lot better.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Mack, Chief of Pediatric Critical Care at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, over a third of patients in the pediatric intensive care unit have respiratory illnesses.
Of the 24 kids in the PICU on Tuesday, nine had respiratory illnesses. Six of those kids had RSV.
The doctor said 17 out of the 54 children in acute care units had respiratory illnesses on Tuesday. Seven of them had RSV.
Dr. Mack said there is a vaccine for RSV, but it’s only available for babies who have high-risk conditions, so most infants are unprotected.
She said children six months and older should get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 to prevent hospitalization. The doctor recommends keeping infants and newborns away from crowds since they aren’t eligible for those vaccines yet.
“Of the vaccine-preventable diseases, at least for today (Tuesday), there are no children who were eligible for a vaccination who were vaccinated requiring hospitalization today, so for example, flu and COVID,” said Dr. Mack.
The doctors are encouraging people to get vaccinated before the end of October.