‘It’s been a long three years,’ Ohio Department of Health discussed increase in respiratory viruses

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) held a virtual press conference Tuesday morning regarding the increase in respiratory viruses in children.

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ODH Director, Bruce Vanderhoff was joined by Rustin Morse, Chief Medical Officer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Patty Manning-Courtney, Chief of Staff with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Claudia Hoyen, Director of Infection Control with University Hospital (UH) and UH Rainbows Babies and Children’s Hospital.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) season began in October this year, showing an increase in influenza related hospitalizations. In most years, the start of RSV will happen around Thanksgiving and then begin to spread following the holiday when many people travel to celebrate.

“RSV has hit us hard this year,” Dr. Hoyen said in the press conference, “and has hit us early.”

Each year children’s hospitals and pediatric practices usually experience these type of illnesses throughout the winter months, Dr. Morse said. The unique thing about this year is that it has come much earlier than it usually would, and the amount of patients are much higher than expected at this time of year.

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With the increase of patients in hospitals as well as the ongoing staffing issues, it’s had an effect on patient care.

“Our staff are tired,” Dr. Hoyen said in the conference, “it’s been a long three years.”

The result of this spike in cases means higher demands in hospitals, particularly children’s hospitals, ultimately resulting in longer wait times.

Parents should consult with their primary care doctor before taking their child to the emergency room to determine the right course of action, and hopefully decrease the amount of wait time in the emergency room, health officials said.

There are particular signs parents should know to watch for to recognize RSV in their children such as decreased feeding, decreased activity levels, fever or wheezing, according to Dr. Manning.

Babies under six months with RSV should be watched very carefully, according to Dr. Manning.

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Parents should note how they eat and drink, if they make wet diapers, what their energy levels look like, how easy it is to wake them up, and watching how they breathe, Dr. Manning said. If they are breathing very quickly and using their muscles to breathe, you should seek medical treatment.

The best way to protect yourself and others is to use good hand hygiene, wear a face mask in public when showing signs of illness, have good indoor ventilation and stay up to date with necessary vaccines, Dr. Vanderhoff said.

Health officials shared ways that people can protect themselves as well as protect our hospitals from this influx in respiratory viruses:

  • Be up to date on your vaccines such as the influenza vaccine and Covid-19 booster or vaccination.
  • If your child has a runny nose, fever or experiencing flu-like symptoms, keep them home from school or child care facilities.
  • If you are sick or exhibiting symptoms, Dr. Manning recommended wearing a mask when in public.
  • If you think your child is exhibiting symptoms similar to the common cold, refer to your primary care doctor before rushing your child to the emergency room.

“We need to do what we can as residents of Ohio to protect our healthcare system so that if somebody is in a car accident or somebody develops cancer, we have room in our hospitals to take care of those patients,” Dr. Hoyen said.