A non-seasonal early increase in respiratory viruses among infants and toddlers has doctors concerned about the upcoming months. As per NBC News, pediatricians and children’s hospitals anticipated a severe influenza season. They were unprepared for a number of viruses to arrive simultaneously and earlier than anticipated.
Dr. Deanna Behrens, a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Chicago’s suburbs, stated, “This fall, there is no single virus causing pediatric respiratory viruses.” “Unfortunately, that applies to everyone.”
Behrens and other infectious disease experts stated that infants and preschool-aged children are being infected with influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza viruses, adenoviruses, rhinoviruses, and enteroviruses in unprecedented ways.
Dr. Mark Kline, the chief physician of Children’s Hospital New Orleans, stated, “When we conduct the nasal swab, we encounter children who test positive for influenza as well as RSV, enterovirus, or adenovirus.” We’ve encountered children with two or three viruses at once.
Children account for one-third of influenza-related hospitalizations, according to a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to NBC News. A third of these hospitalizations include children under 5 years of age.
Infants and toddlers are especially susceptible to serious respiratory diseases. Their little airways and immature immune systems have difficulty removing the mucus accumulation caused by colds and other respiratory infections. The CDC’s figures come from FluSurv-NET, which encompasses 14 states and approximately 9 percent of the U.S. population.
According to the most recent flu report from the CDC, Georgia, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, D.C. are experiencing a particularly rapid spread of influenza. According to FluSurv-NET, Georgia is home to 80 percent of the children hospitalized for influenza.
While RSV is overwhelming many children’s hospitals, the incidence of pediatric influenza is on the rise. Dr. Sarah Combs, an emergency care physician at Children’s National in Washington, D.C., remarked, “We’ve witnessed a weekly doubling in the number of cases.”
Viruses flourish in populations who have never been exposed to them. This is why young children are currently the most susceptible to respiratory viruses. When the pandemic struck in 2020, these children had spent the majority of their first few years at home, shielded from viruses that, in general, boost baby immune systems. They were vulnerable when they were not exposed.
Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, stated, “What we lacked was a couple of years of young children establishing the immunity needed to keep these colds at bay.” With influenza and RSV, we may be in for a difficult six to seven weeks.
In fact, “reduced population immunity to circulating respiratory illnesses, particularly among young children who may have never been exposed or vaccinated, could result in a robust return of influenza and other respiratory viruses, such as RSV,” wrote Lynnette Brammer, team lead of the Domestic Influenza Surveillance Team at the CDC, in an email.
Viruses are also emerging earlier than would generally be anticipated. Even though the flu season normally peaks between December and February, the Southeast is experiencing a steady increase in cases.
“I’m not sure that we’re all emotionally prepared for RSV and flu season,” said Creech. “We anticipated this to be a half-marathon-style race. Now it appears like it may take even longer. Possibly an entire marathon.” The rapid, severe increase in pediatric cases contributes to hospital strain.
According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, pediatric hospital bed occupancy is at or above 80% in 17 states. Nearly 75% of the projected 40,000 pediatric beds in the United States are occupied, months before the anticipated winter peak.
Kline stated that the most common symptoms of influenza in children include fever, sore throat, cough, body pains, and lethargy. However, the fact that children simultaneously test positive for several respiratory viruses can obscure the symptoms of any one virus. RSV can induce influenza-like symptoms.
According to Dr. Sarah Combs, an emergency care physician at Children’s National in Washington, D.C., RSV “has impacted earlier and harder.” Combs stated that her staff is experiencing an increase in RSV cases.
“We generally anticipate to see this between November and December,” she said. In addition to RSV, Combs anticipates a doubling of pediatric influenza cases in the following weeks. Between July and October of 2021, Children’s National treated eight pediatric influenza cases. Combs and her colleagues have treated eighty such toddlers thus far in 2022. The rise is tenfold from the previous year.
Callie Dobbins, a nurse and facility executive at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, stated that the early rise in pediatric viral disease took many clinicians “off guard.” “We have only recently recovered from the pandemic, and now we are inundated with youngsters in need,” she said.
Additional viruses also afflict youngsters. His team continues to observe croup, which is caused by the parainfluenza virus, according to Creech. And only last month, the CDC issued a warning about EV-D68, a specific kind of enterovirus.
“Our current enterovirus levels are not optimal. They are still quite high, “Creech remarked. Although it typically causes acute respiratory sickness, EV-D68 has been linked to acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare polio-like disorder that can cause limb weakness and other nervous system issues.
Nevertheless, pediatricians are currently particularly concerned about influenza. Dobbins stated, “We anticipate a more severe flu season, especially for youngsters,” adding, “We anticipate the current difficulty to persist throughout flu season.”