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State distributing $25 million to Maryland hospitals to tackle uptick children sick with RSV

Dr. Jinlene Chan is the Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services in Maryland. Credit: Joel McCord
Joel McCord
Dr. Jinlene Chan is the Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services in Maryland.

State leaders earmarked $25 million in federal funding to help combat a virus that has been overwhelming pediatric hospitals pushing capacity limits since September. Respiratory Syncytial Virus, otherwise known as RSV, accounts for 57% of new hospitalizations in the state, according to Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary of public health services at the Maryland Health Department. The federal money is reallocated COVID-19 relief funding and will be distributed statewide but not all the hospitals will be given the same amount.

“There may be slightly different awards based on the size of the hospital,” Chan said. “There is a possibility that we could go back for more money if things ended up being worse than expected, or if these outbreaks end up being something that is like the COVID pandemic.”

Medical experts are concerned that the RSV breakout will continue through flu season and as COVID-19 becomes more widespread through the winter.

That could push pediatric intensive care units to their limits. Children in some Maryland hospitals are already being taken out of state in some instances to get the care they need because there aren’t enough beds.

"We've certainly used some hospitals in Pennsylvania in Northern Virginia, when we don't have the right bed for the right patient in a very timely way,” said Dr. Jason Custer, chief of critical care at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. “Our beds are full every day.”

The reason for the uptick in severe cases is multifactorial, but Dr. Theresa Nguyen, interim chair of pediatrics at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, says COVID is one of the main causes.

“For the last two winter seasons, most people have been masked,” she said. “If you're wearing a mask, and you sneeze or you cough, you're not spreading it, and sharing those germs with other people. That's why we didn't see very much of RSV in the last two years. The disadvantage is our body has forgotten its immune memory. Since we haven't seen these viruses in a while, it is something brand new. And we have to mount this whole new immune response.”

RSV symptoms include runny nose, coughing, fever, aches and lethargy. For most adults, RSV is an annoyance and maybe a couple days off of work, but it can have a particularly big impact on small children.

However, for small children or children with other health issues, RSV can cause severe congestion to the point that they need to be hospitalized.

Chan said it’s extremely important that children and adults get their flu and COVID vaccines and boosters to prevent the spread of disease.

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr
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