RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As the end of October draws near, some people may be scared of haunted houses — but doctors across the Richmond region are more worried about crowded hospitals.
Last fall, hospitals and emergency rooms flooded across central Virginia as the region saw a surge of respiratory illness cases among children. Dr. Nicholas Schey, a pediatric doctor with Bon Secours, reflected on last fall, when cases of respiratory illnesses skyrocketed in Virginia.
“It was definitely worse than usual, to the point where many of the pediatric [emergency rooms] in the area and across the country were overflowing,” Dr. Shey said.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has been a historically tricky virus to contain because, until now, there was no vaccine.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on two revolutionary medical treatments proven to prevent respiratory syncytial virus among children. One of them, a more traditional vaccine, is given to expecting mothers.
“If it’s given to a pregnant mother near the end of her pregnancy, it can have a strong effect to help protect the baby for about the first six months of life,” said Dr. Schey
The second new treatment is for young kids and directly gives them the antibodies needed to get through the season safely.
Dr. Schey told 8News that these treatments can decrease a baby’s chance of hospitalization by around 80%. Therefore, healthcare providers have been putting in their orders, trying to get these doses of protection in time for the season, but distributors are having trouble keeping pace with the high volume of orders.
According to Dr. Schey, about 20% of kids hospitalized for breathing problems have RSV. Dr. Schey shared what signs parents should look out for over the next few weeks.
“The most important thing to watch out for is difficulty breathing,” Dr. Schey said. “That’s one of the biggest complications of any of these viruses. So, the signs of trouble breathing in a baby or a child would be fast breathing — looking like they’re panting.”
Dr. Schey told 8News that hospitals are already noticing a rapid uptick in pediatric patients this October, but parents shouldn’t panic.
“The first step is just to take a big breath and see how your child’s doing,” Dr. Schey said.
If a baby is under two months old and has a fever, that child should be taken to the emergency room. A long-lasting or exceptionally high fever in any child would also warrant professional care, especially if the young person has asthma or any underlying health conditions.
If you’re interested in the new treatments, check with your local pediatrician to see when they expect to have them in stock. Dr. Schey told 8News that his team is hopeful to be able to administer the treatments within the next month or so — just in time for the peak of the respiratory illness season.