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Kids with RSV overwhelm Philadelphia pediatric hospitals

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia pediatric hospitals are overwhelmed with sick children, most of whom have the contagious respiratory virus RSV. It’s a trend that’s happening across the country, complicated by the increasing number of flu cases.

Doctors say it’s time to take precautions to keep these respiratory illnesses from spreading more widely.

RSV is currently the big troublemaker, potentially dangerous for young children but adults can get it and can spread it too.

Sixteen-month-old Connor Houlihan is among tens of thousands of children hospitalized with RSV.

“He had a fever that was approaching 103 and Motrin and Tylenol wasn’t making it any better,” Kimberly Houlihan, Connor’s mom, said. “So as a parent, it’s scary.”

St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children is one of the region’s hospitals packed with sick kids.

“We are definitely seeing an unprecedented type of surge, especially this early in the winter,” Dr. James Reingold said.

Reingold is the chief of the emergency department at St. Christopher’s, where some units are being converted to accommodate a crush of new patients, including some coming from outside Baltimore.

The entire northeast region is overwhelmed and juggling patients.

“We are definitely doing everything we can to try to think differently and make as much room as possible,” Reingold said.

There is also ongoing staffing shortages, which are complicating the situation.

“We are seeing steep increases in the number of cases of RSV in the city and earlier than we would normally,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said.

Bettigole says the most recent numbers show 640 RSV cases in the city.

Other locations overwhelmed with patients have declared health emergencies to get more resources and additional temporary staff.

Bettigole says the city is not looking at an emergency declaration yet, but that could change if flu cases continue to increase along with RSV.

In 36 states, RSV cases are rising at alarming rates as a “triple threat” of viruses — COVID-19, influenza and RSV — are filling hospitals to capacity.

More than 72% of pediatric beds are full.

“Respiratory illnesses, usually we see more of in December, January, February,” Dr. Eric Ball said. “We are seeing a huge surge right now.”

All three respiratory viruses have common symptoms, often starting with a fever, congestion and runny nose.

COVID-19 can cause a sore throat and digestive issues. RSV causes wheezing and coughing.

“During COVID, we had locked down,” Dr. Sarah Combs said. “We were masking. We were social distancing and our immune systems, they didn’t get the workout they’re used to getting.”

Doctors say many children don’t need to be taken to the emergency department.

Parents are advised to call their pediatricians if their children have ordinary cold and flu symptoms, but if their child is having difficulty breathing, pulling in their chest, flared nostrils or blue around their nose and mouth, they should seek medical care immediately.

Some regions hard hit with RSV and other respiratory illnesses have made emergency declarations to get more resources.

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