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Hospitals seeing unusual spike in respiratory illnesses among children

Jun 30, 2021 05:30AM ● By Editor

Watch the KSTP-TV Report here

Photo: KSTP-TV

By Alex Jokich of KSTP-TV - June 28, 2021 

Emergency rooms across the Twin Cities are seeing an unseasonal spike in viruses among children.

The Minnesota Department of Health told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there have been 52 hospitalizations for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, since May. There were zero summertime cases of RSV in 2020 and 15 the year before.

"Our son, Fred, just had a runny nose, so we didn't think a lot of it until he was struggling to breathe," said Elise Pokel, a mother who lives in the Twin Cities. "He woke up and was just making these really awful sounds."

Pokel called 911 Thursday and her 17-month-old son was rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with RSV.

"For him to just sort of be immediately struggling when he was feeling totally fine was really overwhelming and really scary," Pokel said.

Pediatric doctors said they are noticing an uptick in RSV, croup and bronchitis, illnesses more commonly seen during the fall and winter months.

"Our volumes in the emergency department are up between 10-25% over what they would normally be this time of year," said Dr. Marissa Hendrickson, medical director of the pediatric emergency room at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.

Nationwide data on RSV shows cases have been climbing in parts of the country over the last few months, with a significant increase in June.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a health advisory earlier this month, noting, "Due to reduced circulation of RSV during the winter months of 2020–2021, older infants and toddlers might now be at increased risk of severe RSV-associated illness since they have likely not had typical levels of exposure to RSV during the past 15 months."

"The fact that these children have not been exposed to any viruses in their short lives might lead them to be at risk of getting more than one virus at a time or becoming more severely ill," Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson recommends kids wash their hands frequently and get the COVID-19 vaccine if they're eligible. For kids who are too young to get vaccinated, she suggests they wear a mask in public.

If your child does get sick, Hendrickson advises calling your pediatrician or primary care provider to decide if, when and where the child should be seen, especially if they're having trouble breathing or showing signs of dehydration. If parents are extremely concerned, seek emergency help.

Pokel urges parents to heed the warning. While her son has been discharged from the hospital, he still has a fever.

"We feel like we're ultra-cautious and he still got really sick," Pokel said.

According to the CDC, RSV infection in infants younger than 6 months may result in symptoms of irritability, poor feeding, lethargy and/or apnea with or without fever. In older infants and young children, rhinorrhea and decreased appetite may appear one to three days before cough, often followed by sneezing, fever and sometimes wheezing.

The CDC also noted: "Since this elevated interseasonal activity is a deviation in the typical circulation patterns for RSV, at this time it is not possible to anticipate the likely spread, peak, or duration of activity with any certainty."

The Minnesota Department of Health provided this statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

"We encourage parents and caregivers to keep young children out of child care or other activities when experiencing acute respiratory illness, even if they have tested negative for COVID-19. To help prevent RSV and other respiratory illnesses, also continue to wash hands often and cover coughs and sneezes."

To watch the original report and see related reporting, follow this link to the KSTP_TV website.

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