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Maryland respiratory virus outbreak among children overwhelming hospitals

The south entrance of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.
Eli Pousson
Wikimedia Commons
The south entrance of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.

Maryland pediatric hospitals are seeing high numbers of respiratory illnesses, filling beds and overwhelming facilities. University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and other medical organizations in Maryland and surrounding states have too many patients and not enough beds.

“Our beds are full every day,” said Dr. Jason Custer, chief of critical care at the University of Maryland’s Children’s Hospital. “Most days we are able to accommodate the patients who need to come in, but it may take longer than we want to get to patients from the emergency departments into the critical care unit.”

The culprits are two common viruses that are converging on the population at the same time this fall: the common cold and Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a usually mild respiratory disease that can escalate to lung inflammation in children and older adults.

There is no definitive answer as to why both viruses are infecting at the same time and with such virility, but Custer said it could be because timing cycles are off due to COVID or that the strains are particularly bad this year.

In bad cases, the virus can weaken someone who may later develop a bacterial infection in the lungs like pneumonia.

The biggest issue for hospitals right now is the intensive care units. The University of Maryland Children’s Hospital has 19 ICU beds and between 20 and 32 progressive care beds.

“We see patients who have comorbidities, particularly chronic respiratory, land themselves in the hospitals with what for a typically healthy kid would just be a common cold at home,” Custer said.

However, even some healthy children are getting lung inflammation causing them to breath fast and hard and needing extra support.

Pediatric hospitals use a centralized access center when facilities are reaching capacity. Physicians call that number to find beds available in the area in order to better manage ICUs. Custer said hospitals have sent children via ambulance to Washington D.C., northern Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania.

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr
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