Outbreak of childhood respiratory illness wreaking havoc at San Antonio hospitals

'I can definitely say that most hospital systems right now are full,' one physician said.

click to enlarge RSV mostly affects children under the age of 2, causing airway inflammation that can make breathing difficult. - Pexels / Cottonbro
Pexels / Cottonbro
RSV mostly affects children under the age of 2, causing airway inflammation that can make breathing difficult.
An outbreak of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and an abnormally high number of flu cases are together wreaking havoc at pediatric wards across San Antonio, University Health Systems officials said.

“It’s causing a seriously high number of admissions to the hospital and really overwhelming the hospital system," said Dr. Mandie Tibball Svatek, a pediatric hospitalist and associate professor at University Hospital. “As far as our hospital wards and our ICU settings go, I can definitely say that most hospital systems right now are full.”

RSV primarily affects children under the age of 2, causing airway inflammation that can make breathing difficult. Although common during cold and flu season, Svatek said the number of positive cases and hospital admissions — especially this early in the year — appears worse than in years past.

“We were not seeing many of these viruses at all because of social distancing and the masking,” Svatek said. “Now that we’re back in the swing of things, we’re not only seeing children being COVID-positive right now but a peak in RSV and flu cases.”

Svatek said many of the children admitted to local hospitals are suffering from a triad of diseases, often testing positive for RSV combined with influenza and Rhinovirus. That creates a perfect storm of respiratory illness as flu season begins.

San Antonio-area influenza cases were up 52% from Oct. 9-15 with “widespread” community transmission in Bexar County, according to data from Metro Health.

The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, the organization responsible for tallying RSV cases in South Texas, didn't immediately respond to a request for case data. Although officials with University Health said they haven't recorded any fatalities at the system's hospitals, they've had to transfer some infants to ICU units.

Although infants infected with the RSV have a 95% chance of survival, the virus can have long-lasting effects and can lead to chronic asthma later in life, Svatek said.

San Antonio's outbreak tracks state and national trends. Last week, the emergency room at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth reached maximum capacity due to RSV cases, news station WFAA reported. Also, classes at a North Texas private school were canceled Thursday and Friday due to an outbreak of “flu-like” illnesses, according to NBC 5 DFW.

It’s not time to panic, Svatek said. However, parents whose children are at high risk — including infants under 6 months, preterm children and those with neuromuscular diseases — should reconsider sending those kids into preschools, daycares and other environments where transmission is likely.

“I would tell parents to be cautious if they’re having to send their kids into an environment that can become a concern for transmission,” Svatec said. “Even with taking the appropriate standards, daycare can still be difficult with transmitting to other individuals.”

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