Pediatric Respiratory Viruses Surging and the Impact on Patient Transport

Pediatric Respiratory Virus

Respiratory viruses in children are on the rise nationwide, including flu, RSV, and COVID-19 cases. As of the end of November, influenza activity is high and continues to increase across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates there have been nearly 9 million flu illnesses and 78,000 hospitalizations so far this season, numbers that indicate hospitals across the country are feeling the impact with busy waiting rooms and occupied beds.

Hospitals aren’t the only facilities affected by the increase in respiratory viruses — emergency air medical transport companies are also seeing more pediatric patient transfers. As of mid-November, Air Methods surpassed the number of pediatric patients they helped compared to the total number in all of 2021. Currently, Air Methods is seeing a 4% increase in pediatric patients compared to last year and expects the number to be as high as 10% by the end of the year if the influx in pediatric patients continues.

“Considering 2021 was the busiest year for helping patients, the fact that we’ve already eclipsed the number of pediatric patients we transported in all of 2021, weeks before the end of 2022, highlights that our data correlates with the stories of what health systems throughout the country are experiencing,” said Aidan O’Conner, Director of Regional Sales. “We continue to monitor this data daily so we can help support our partners in the prehospital and hospital settings.”

The surge in pediatric RSV illnesses has impacted how hospitals accommodate the increased number of children admitted to the hospital. According to Gregory P. Conners, MD, MPH, MBA, FAAP, FACEP, Executive Director of Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in New York, they had to take some unique measures to find more beds. “The early RSV season, combined with a surge in other respiratory viruses and our ongoing pediatric and adolescent mental health crisis, is filling beds at our children’s hospital, including the pediatric ICU,” said Conners.

They have had to turn down some requests for transfer of children from regional hospitals to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital due to space constraints. Not accepting some patient transfer requests led to working with other upstate New York children’s hospitals to find places for patients, boarding inpatients in the pediatric emergency department when there was no room in the children’s hospital inpatient areas, and moving older teens to adult floors.

“These are temporary measures, until we get back to operations as usual,” said Conners. And the influx of pediatric patients in New York isn’t isolated. Children’s hospitals all across the state, region, and country are facing similar challenges.

Air Methods teammates echo this sentiment as they watch a shortage of hospital beds and medications nationwide emulate the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “What we’re seeing right now is a shortage of beds and medications occurring in pediatric units across the country that typically happens in a hospital system when it hits full capacity,” said Stephanie Queen, Senior Vice President of Clinical Services. “What the difference is this year in hospitals across the country, they are exceeding 100% capacity for more than 60 days straight. It spiked very quickly and aggressively much more than what we usually see in a typical RSV season.”

RSV is a common respiratory illness and most children do acquire the infection by the age of two years. Symptoms are typically mild and resolve quickly. But RSV can lead to serious complications for infants, young children, and even older children with certain chronic conditions.

Each year in the United States, RSV leads to nearly 2.1 million outpatient visits among children younger than five years old and 58,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

RSV isn’t the only illness affecting children. Influenza, a serious condition that can lead to hospitalization from flu-related complications, can pose a serious risk for kids younger than five years old, according to the CDC.

“We are also starting to see a peak in rhinoviruses and enteroviruses, and they have what we call co-infections,” said Queen. “Pediatric patients can present with RSV plus other viruses such as rhino, influenza or COVID which is currently being referenced as a tripledemic. RSV started unseasonably early, COVID continues to loom, and add in either influenza or rhinovirus and you get what we are seeing which is an overwhelming number of children who need care.”

Caring for pediatric patients requires a skilled team and specialized equipment. Air Methods has an experienced, trained team to care for the sickest infants and pediatric patients in respiratory distress and experiencing other symptoms. “Our equipment is specialized to be able to handle those types of transports and make sure that we can safely transport them with the needs they have for oxidation and respiratory support,” said Queen.

With kids back in school and masks off, the 2022 season for respiratory and flu infections is on the rise. Air Methods is monitoring the uptick in pediatric illnesses and working closely with our partners to meet all needs. “We’re ready for the call and ready in our communities that we serve to help with these challenges,” said Queen.

Air Ambulance Isolette

Article Sources: 

CDC Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report

CDC RSV Research & Surveillance

Protect Against Flu: Caregivers of Infants and Young Children

CNBC — Children’s hospitals call on Biden to declare emergency in response to ‘unprecedented’ RSV surge

Additional Information on Specialized Transport:

Air Methods Specialty Transports