Surge in Children Under Five Hospitalized for Respiratory Viruses

The United States is seeing a surge in hospitalizations for respiratory viruses, with children under five at the most risk. It comes as simultaneous shortages of antivirals and antibiotics have swept the nation.

Hospitalizations for respiratory viruses including RSV, influenza, and others are surging across the U.S. The wave of illnesses means more than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are now full. 

Leading child health organizations are calling for the Biden administration to declare a national emergency, as some 55 million Americans return from Thanksgiving holiday travel and many prepare for Christmas and New Year celebrations.

RSV hospitalization rates for newborns are seven times higher than they were in 2018, which was the last full season before the Covid pandemic hit.  

Flu hospitalizations are the worst they have been in a decade. Rhinovirus, enterovirus, adenovirus, metapneumovirus, and parainfluenza are also contributing to this wave of illness. 

Covid cases are also beginning to rise once again in the U.S. More than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds were already full by mid-November. 

Across the U.S. there have been reports of full hospitals due to these illnesses. One hospital in Oregon has instituted pediatric crisis of care standards, an emergency measure to stretch existing capacity. In California and Maryland, hospitals are using overflow tents to try to address the swell in pediatric patients. Boston and Salt Lake City children’s hospitals have been forced to cancel planned surgeries.

Children’s National in Washington, D.C. has also been operating at or near capacity for the past two months amid an “enormous spike” in RSV and flu cases, as well as other viruses among children. 

The curves for new cases and hospitalizations are “almost vertical”, experts and chief medical officers said. 

Respiratory viruses like flu and RSV typically spike in the winter – but not this early, often not simultaneously, and not at this scale. 

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