A Surge in Pediatric Respiratory Viruses, Including RSV, Is Straining Hospitals

Respiratory illnesses in children are climbing well before the typical busy winter season

Physicians are reporting unseasonably high numbers of respiratory illnesses in children, straining many children’s hospitals before the typically busier winter months.

Juan Salazar, physician in chief at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, said a sharp increase in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has filled up hospital beds at his facility, creating capacity issues. 

Officials at the 187-bed children’s hospital are now considering setting up a field hospital outside of the hospital’s main facilities in the event the surge of cases gets worse, he said. 

“We aren’t there yet, but we obviously have to be prepared,” Dr. Salazar said.  

RSV is an easily transmissible virus that infects the respiratory tract. The virus spreads through droplets from coughing and sneezing and on surfaces. Positive tests for RSV have been on the rise across the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rise in cases has come ahead of the typical winter peak for such illnesses, hospital officials said. 

For most people, RSV amounts to a cold, and nearly all children come in contact with the virus by the age of two, health authorities said. But it can be severe for some infants and older adults, especially for those who have pre-existing health conditions. 

Much like influenza, RSV cases were flattened during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. The respiratory virus that typically circulates in the fall and winter then rebounded in the summer of 2021.  

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