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Pediatric hospitals say RSV surge 'like nothing we've ever seen before'

The Denver metro area has seen more than 500 cases of RSV in children this season.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) held a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the recent increase in pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases.

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In the Denver metro area there have been 554 patients hospitalized with RSV, according to CDPHE. 525 of those patients are children and 29 are adults.

The current RSV season has started early and the numbers are very high, Colorado State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said.

The RSV appears to be impacting children more than any other virus right now, Herlihy said.

In the last few weeks, pediatric ICU beds have been at capacity. Availability has been between 0 and 5 statewide, according to the Director of the Division of Disease Control for CDPHE, Scott Bookman.

In response to the capacity issues prompted by the surge in RSV cases and cases of flu and COVID, on Wednesday Colorado hospitals and health systems activated the state transfer center, according to the Colorado Hospital Association. The activation is for Tier 1, the lowest level, which allows hospitals and health systems with existing partnerships to create a "transfer partnership" with each other.

The Combined Hospital Transfer Center (CHTC) was first created during the pandemic to help hospitals manage capacity issues.

RELATED: Parents share experience of kids having RSV

The state is also seeing an increase in Influenza A and COVID-19 cases as well, according to Herlihy. The 7-day average positivity in Colorado is 11.99%.

"We believe that at least part of this increase in transmission of COVID-19 is being driven by new subvariants," Herlihy said.

Colorado has also seen 92 flu hospitalizations as of November 5, CDPHE reported.

Children's Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kevin Carney, said their emergency department has a daily average of patients 30% higher right now than compared to the busiest days of previous respiratory seasons.

"It's truly like nothing we've ever seen before at Children's Hospital Colorado," he said.

Carney said the hospital's surge tactics include reallocating hospital beds, expanding patient care areas across the hospital system, bringing in more help (travel nurses, respiratory therapists), postponing and rescheduling some non-urgent surgeries.

"We do recognize these postponements are extremely stressful on patients and families, and we're working very hard to reschedule as soon as we can," Carney said. 

"However these decisions do help us preserve capacity to care for patients that are very sick and need care immediately. It helps us avoid hospital overcrowding and ensures we have enough team members on hand to provide safe and proper care for every patient. Despite all these efforts, patients and families are experiencing significantly longer wait times in emergency department due to sheer volume of people seeking care."

Children's is also using a triage tent outside the ED.

"Early in the pandemic, we stood up a tent outside the ED on Anschutz campus. We have done the same thing this year, we put it up about two weeks ago. We have been using it to take care of lower acuity patients who we can safely move out of the ED, when the ED is full, which is happening much more frequently."

Carney said, at some point, RSV will peak, but it's hard to know when.

"We're hoping that we reach the peak very soon. "That will still put us in still a very tight bind from a hospital capacity point, and we’re preparing for weeks to months of capacity challenges in inpatient units and the ED. RSV will start going down at some point, but flu is right behind it," he said.

"We’re mentally preparing for the long haul."

Carney provided these tips to help limit the spread of the viruses:

  • Covering sneezes and coughs
  • Washing hands
  • Wearing masks when symptomatic
  • Staying home when sick

Also, be mindful of playdates, family gatherings and holiday events. Take precautions beforehand and stay home if you are not feeling well.



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