Multnomah County health officials recommend families with children 3 and under consider skipping Thanksgiving gatherings. They say anyone who feels sick, anyone whose health is fragile and anyone who is elderly should also consider making other plans to prevent the spread of RSV, a respiratory disease.
The current surge is “a spike that hasn’t been seen in my 30 years as a pediatrician,” said Dr. Ann Loeffler, pediatric infectious disease expert and deputy county health officer.
“So unfortunately that means we all have to do our part,” Loeffler said. “In regards to Thanksgiving gatherings, I would just ask every family across the United States in any other place where we are seeing an increase in RSV and risk no longer having the capacity to hospitalize other children.”
Although it is a common and generally mild childhood disease, many children are contracting RSV for the first time this year after two years of pandemic restrictions. Now, preschoolers with limited immunity to the disease are carrying the virus back to their infant siblings. And babies who get RSV are at high risk for respiratory problems if they catch it. Officials believe this is a key reason why this year’s RSV season is so intense and why all of the county’s pediatric intensive care beds are in use.
“Both of our children’s hospitals have announced that they have moved to crisis care standards. That usually means they’re at full capacity,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer. “They’re taking on the number of patients they’re absolutely able to take on, and there’s no way to transfer the next patient.”
Given the limited resources available to treat sick children, Vines said it was a holiday to “keep your kids close.”
OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Randall Children’s Hospital, both in Portland, announced this week that they would ask nurses to treat more patients at a time in a bid to free up additional beds for young patients requiring intensive care.
The pediatric bed crisis has made it difficult for teens with mental health crises to also get the care they need, as the OPB reported.
While masks can help protect against the spread, especially if worn by someone who is actively ill, RSV mainly spreads on surfaces where the virus can last for hours. Washing hands and wiping down surfaces is a great way to prevent the spread. Additionally, the elderly and immunocompromised should avoid hugging and kissing young children showing signs of illness.
A runny nose is usually the first sign of RSV, followed by a sore throat, fever, lethargy, and a cough that can last for a few weeks. Most children, including babies, can be kept at home to manage symptoms. The key is to keep infants’ airways clear by using a suction device, also known as a snot sucker, to clear their nasal passages. Older children should blow their nose frequently. Steam showers help loosen mucus from the small nasal passages.
Caregivers should also keep children hydrated. In addition to aiding recovery, it helps keep mucus thinner. Gatorade and Pedialyte are good options, in addition to water.
If a child is having trouble breathing or is excessively droopy and tired, especially if their nose is clean and they don’t have a fever, they should be taken to the emergency room regardless of activity, Loeffler said. A young child who has difficulty breathing will not babble or talk as usual and will use their abdominal muscles to pump air into their lungs. If their stomach sucks under their ribs during what are called “retractions,” see a doctor.
With the flu on the rise and an uptick in COVID-19 also beginning, health officials say to continue to be careful and get vaccinated for everything you can — including whooping cough — to stay healthy. and help prevent the spread of disease.
“It’s an evolving situation. So we will be monitoring the capacity of the hospital very closely,” Vines said. “The trajectory is very difficult, at least a month ahead, and probably more.”
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