Multnomah County health officials are recommending that families with children ages 3 and under skip Thanksgiving gatherings. They say anyone who feels sick, anyone with fragile health, and anyone who is older should also consider making other plans to prevent the spread of RSV, a respiratory disease.
The current spike is “a spike not seen in my 30 years as a pediatrician,” said Dr. Ann Loeffler, a childhood infectious disease expert and deputy health officer for the county.
“So unfortunately that means we all have to do our part,” Loeffler said. “As for the Thanksgiving gatherings, I would just ask every family in the United States in every other place where we see an increase in RSV and are at risk of not being able to hospitalize any more children. to take.”
Although it is a common childhood disease and usually not dangerous, many children are contracting RSV for the first time this year after two years of pandemic restrictions. Now preschoolers with limited immunity to the disease bring the bug to little siblings. And babies who contract RSV are at high risk for breathing problems if they get it. Officials believe this is one of the main reasons why this year’s RSV season is so intense and why all of the province’s pediatric intensive care beds are in use.
“Both of our children’s hospitals have announced that they have moved to crisis care standards of care. That usually means they’re full,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer. “They’re taking care of the number of patients they absolutely can, and there’s no way to hand over the next patient.”
Given the limited resources available to treat sick children, Vines said this is a holiday to “keep your kids close.”
Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at OHSU and Randall Children’s Hospital, both in Portland, announced this week that they would have nurses treat more patients at once in an effort to free up extra beds for young patients in need of intensive care.
The shortage of pediatric beds has made it difficult for teens with mental health crises to also get the care they need, as OPB reported.
While masks can help protect against spread, especially if worn by someone who is actively sick, RSV mainly spreads on surfaces where the bug can persist for hours. Washing hands and wiping down surfaces is an excellent way to prevent the spread. Also, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems should avoid hugging and kissing young children who show signs of illness.
A runny nose is usually the first sign of RSV, followed by a sore throat, fever, lethargy, and a cough that can last for several weeks. Most children, including infants, can be kept at home to manage symptoms. The most important thing is to keep babies’ airways clear by using a suction device, known as a snot aspirator, to clear their nasal passages. Older children often need to blow their nose. Steamy showers help loosen mucus in small nasal passages.
Caregivers should also keep children hydrated. In addition to aiding recovery, it helps keep mucus thinner. Besides water, Gatorade and Pedialyte are good options.
If a child is having trouble breathing or is very floppy and tired, especially if their nose is clear and they don’t have a fever, they should be taken to the emergency room no matter how busy, Loeffler said. A young child who is struggling to breathe will not babble or talk as normal and will use his abdominal muscles to pump air into his lungs. If their stomach is sucking under their ribs in what are known as “retractions,” see a doctor.
With the rise of the flu and an uptick in COVID-19 also beginning, health officials say you should continue to pay attention and get vaccinated for everything you can — including whooping cough — to keep yourself healthy and help prevent the spread of disease .
“This is an evolving situation. So we’re going to be watching hospital capacity very closely,” Vines said. “The trajectory is for a very difficult one, at least a month ahead, and probably more.”