- UVM Medical Center
Doctors at the University of Vermont Medical Center are seeing triple the number of hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses in children this fall compared to what they'd normally see pre-pandemic at this time of year, according to Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric critical care physician at the hospital.
The bulk of those hospitalizations are from RSV, while some are due to rhinovirus, another common viral infection. COVID-19 is not currently causing pediatric hospitalizations, Bell said.
UVM Medical Center — which has the only pediatric intensive care unit in the state — is currently able to provide adequate care to all children being admitted, Bell said. But the trajectory of RSV is uncertain and, as flu season rapidly approaches, the hospital is planning for how to manage a higher volume of pediatric patients in the coming weeks and months. Those plans include making sure the hospital has enough staff trained to provide pediatric critical care and identifying additional spaces that could be used to care for young patients.
Bell said that one explanation for the earlier arrival is that, pre-pandemic, all children were typically infected with RSV before they were two years old. But because of COVID-19 mitigation strategies in place for the past several years, there's now a larger population of infants, toddlers and preschoolers who've never been exposed to RSV and are getting it for the first time.
The virus is already wreaking havoc in other New England states. Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford is asking the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up tents in order to expand its pediatric in-patient bed capacity. And in Massachusetts, where Tufts Medical Center recently discontinued pediatric inpatient services, some hospitals are being forced to send children to other states for medical care.
But the virus, for which there is no vaccine, can make infants severely ill. Anywhere from 100 to 500 children under 5 die in the U.S. every year from RSV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Babies under 6 months old, and those who were born premature or have underlying lung disease, are at higher risk.
Because RSV can cause inflammation in the nose, throat, lower airways and lungs, younger infants who are afflicted have a hard time clearing secretions, which may lead to difficulty feeding and breathing, Bell said. When that happens, babies may need to be hospitalized in order to get supplementary fluids or oxygen, or in some cases put on a ventilator.
COVID-19 boosters and flu shots are widely available through health care providers and pharmacies, and both are being offered at the state's walk-in clinics, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said. Find a full list of upcoming clinics here.