Hospitals across the state are adding medical staff to deal with an influx of children hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a flulike virus that can make infants and babies born prematurely extremely sick and put them at risk for more serious ilnesses.
Locally, Cardon Children’s Hospital in Mesa broke a record for pediatric inpatients. In January, its patient load was 1,000, surpassing previous records. That month, 70 percent of Cardon’s beds were filled by patients suffering from RSV.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported that as of February 12, the state was closing in on 2,000 reported RSV cases. Almost 400 were reported that week alone. Nearly half the cases statewide are in Maricopa County.
These numbers are well over the seasonal averages.Statistically, one percent of RSV patients need to be hospitalized, which indicates that RSV is more prevalent this year. One reason could be fewer vaccination for children as more parents find themselves without jobs or medical insurance. RSV requires six doses to be effective, which can be difficult for parents to obtain on time.
Pediatricians recommend that premature infants get vaccinated. This is particularly important if there are other children in the home who can carry home viruses including the flu and common cold. Premature infants have underdeveloped lungs that are particularly susceptible to RSV infection, which shows up as common colds in older kids and adults.
Parents who have been advised to get their infants vaccinated but cannot afford the cost can contact a patient assistance program that might be able to provide them with discounts.
There is no cure for RSV. It is easily passed around, the same way as flu and cold viruses. Physicians can treat the symptoms, which include wheezing that can lead to hospitalization if the infant or young child is unable to take in enough oxygen. Patients are regularly suctioned and given fluids, intravenously if necessary.
Thankfully, the vast majority of RSV patients–even the littlest ones–usually recover within two weeks. Untreated, it can lead to more serious illnesses and complications including pneumonia,bronchiolitis–which causes swelling in the airways and buildup of mucous–and lung failure. Less severe complications include ear infection and whooping cough (another disease that can be prevented with vaccines).
Physicians also warn that elderly people can fall ill from RSV as well.