December 9, 2022

RSV’s ‘Unprecedented Children’s Rise’

Pediatric intensive care units in Massachusetts are bursting at the seams as doctors face an unusually early and severe seasonal respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, among other respiratory viruses. Dr. Brian Cummings, medical director of Children’s Mass General Pediatrics, described the situation as an “inpatient bed crisis.” “Today in our pediatric ICU, our ICU is completely full. We actually have seven patients. Children outside of the ICU are usually transferred to the pediatric ICU, but we’re forced to care for them from a traditional ICU setting,” Cummings said. Dr. Paul Bidinger, Mass. General Brigham’s chief preparedness and continuity officer, added that the hospital’s ICU is at “150% capacity” given the number of children in care with critical illnesses. Cummings said MGH saw about 2,000 RSV cases in October and more than 1,000 in the first week of November. Most cases are treated in urgent care facilities or emergency departments, and patients can recover at home, but Cummings said the MGH system has cared for more than 250 hospitalized RSV patients, as well as those with other circulating viruses. “It is increasing and very severe,” he said. “Why is this happening now? For the past two years, our children have not really been exposed to routine viruses,” said Dr. Alexey Aras Boudreau, MGH’s associate chief of pediatrics for primary care. “Now that they don’t have a mask or social distancing, their immune systems are facing new viruses.” RSV is a common cold virus, but can cause severe illness in young children and the elderly with weakened immune systems. Children, especially those six months or younger and those 65 or older, are at the highest risk for severe infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our patients, the younger patients, are at a higher risk of hospitalization,” said Dr. Cummings. Dr. Cummings also said that due to the recent surge in virus patient admissions, the hospital has had to cancel some pediatric surgeries. “Unfortunately, to the great disappointment of our staff and our families this week. “We’ve been forced to cancel pediatric surgeries,” Cummings said. “But that’s an unfortunate reality now, because we have to make tough decisions about where to place patients.” Severe RSV infection can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis, which can lead to hospitalization. Son Charlie knew something was wrong when he struggled to breathe, had RSV and was rushed to hospital, where he spent eight days in the children’s ICU. “You’re helpless, you can’t help them,” Badov said. “There’s nothing you can do. All they have is oxygen, and we have to get it out.” At the same time, Bado’s sister-in-law Christine Sementelli faced the same. The Westwood native’s son also fell ill two days after celebrating his first birthday. “They went to other hospitals to see if there were beds elsewhere, and there were none,” Semendelli said. Central data show that RSV cases in Massachusetts this year have surpassed last year’s peak. Adults can also get RSV and spreading the virus, Tufts University School of Medicine Dean Dr. Helen Boucher told NewsCenter 5 in a recent interview. Even if they show common cold symptoms, infected adults are contagious for three to eight days and should follow steps to prevent transmission to others, especially those at risk. You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding close contact with others, and frequently cleaning touched surfaces such as doorknobs, according to the CDC. Currently, there is no vaccine for RSV. However, Pfizer said the company is completing a clinical trial that is showing good results and hopes to have government approval for the vaccine by this time next year.

Pediatric intensive care units in Massachusetts are bursting at the seams as doctors face an unusually early and severe seasonal respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, among other respiratory viruses.

Dr. Brian Cummings, medical director of the Department of Pediatrics at Mass General Children’s, described the situation as an “inpatient bed crisis.”

“Today in our pediatric ICU, our ICU is completely full. We actually have seven patients out of the pediatric ICU who would normally be transferred to the pediatric ICU, but are forced to take care of them from the traditional ICU setting,” he said. Cummings.

Dr. Paul Bidinger, Mass. General Brigham’s chief preparedness and continuity officer, added that the hospital’s ICU is at “150% capacity” given the number of children in care with critical illnesses.

Cummings said MGH saw about 2,000 RSV cases in October and more than 1,000 in the first week of November. Most cases are treated in urgent care facilities or emergency departments, and patients can recover at home, but Cummings said the MGH system has cared for more than 250 hospitalized RSV patients, as well as those with other circulating viruses.

“It is increasing and very severe,” he said.

“Why is this happening now? For the past two years, our children have not really been exposed to routine viruses,” said Dr. Alexey Aras Boudreau, MGH’s associate chief of pediatrics for primary care. “Now that they don’t have a mask or social distancing, their immune systems are facing new viruses.”

RSV is a common cold virus, but can cause severe illness in young children and the elderly with weakened immune systems. Children, especially those six months of age or younger and those 65 or older, are at the highest risk of severe infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The younger you are when you become infected, the more likely you are to have a more serious diagnosis. Our patients, the younger patients, are at higher risk of hospitalization,” Dr. Cummings said.

Cummings also noted that the hospital has had to cancel some pediatric surgeries due to a recent surge in virus patient admissions.

“Unfortunately, to the great disappointment of our staff and our families, we have been forced to cancel surgeries for the children this week,” Cummings said. “But that’s an unfortunate reality now because we have to make tough decisions about where to put patients.”

Acute RSV infection can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis, which can lead to hospitalization.

Christina Badov knew something was wrong when her son Charlie struggled to breathe. He was infected with RSV and was rushed to the hospital, where he spent eight days in the pediatric ICU.

“You’re helpless, you can’t help them,” Badov said. “There’s nothing you can do. All they have is oxygen, and we have to ride it out.”

At the same time, Bado’s sister-in-law, Christine Sementelli, faced the same. The Westwood native’s son also fell ill two days after celebrating his first birthday.

“They went to other hospitals to see if there were beds available elsewhere, and no,” Semendelli said.

Central data show that this year’s RSV cases in Massachusetts have surpassed last year’s peak in cases.

Adults can get RSV and spread the virus. Dr. Helen Boucher, dean of Tufts University School of Medicine, told NewsCenter 5 in a recent interview. Even if they show common cold symptoms, infected adults are contagious for three to eight days and should follow precautions to prevent transmission to others, especially those at risk.

You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding close contact with others, and frequently cleaning touched surfaces such as doorknobs, according to the CDC.

Currently, there is no vaccine for RSV. However, Pfizer said the company is completing a clinical trial that is showing good results and hopes to have government approval for the vaccine by this time next year.