Increase in Pediatric Emergencies Driven by Other Respiratory Viruses, Not COVID, Doctors Say

Children’s emergency rooms across the city are seeing an increase in patients, but it’s not due to COVID-19.

An early surge in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a common virus that usually appears in the winter, is partly responsible for driving the increase.

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Lurie Children’s Hospital reports a 78% increase in patients in August 2021 compared to August 2020; and Chicago is averaging one COVID-19 hospital admission a day for those under 18, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said at a news conference Wednesday.

RSV can affect a child’s oxygen levels and their ability to breathe, so the symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19. Many parents have brought their children in for emergency care — unnecessarily —believing their child has COVID-19 said Dr. Thomas Shanley, president and CEO of Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“Part of the challenge we’re having is just making sure that the emergency rooms are serving the kids that they need to see,” Shanley said.

Except in extreme cases where a child is unable to catch their breath, or to drink and stay hydrated, Shanley recommends that parents avoid bringing their children in for emergency care. Instead, he recommends families consult with their pediatrician or urgent care. From there, professionals will be able to triage the right kind of care for families.

Shanley warns that with the current volume of patients in the emergency room, families with children with milder symptoms will face long wait times.

“We need to make sure that we have the staff present and attentive and capable of managing those who are the most sick and really need inpatient care,” Shanley said. “We want to make sure that we’re not diluting that capability too much by having a flood of patients who really don’t need to be in the emergency department.”

Per Lurie Children’s Hospital’s guidelines, situations that warrant emergency care include but are not limited to:

●          Newborns (under two months) with a fever of 100.4° F or higher

●          Severe chest pain, trouble breathing, passing out or fainting, coughing up blood

●          Severe asthma attacks

●          Severe dehydration

●          Serious allergic reactions

●          Injuries such as large and complex cuts or wounds, open or severe bone fractures, ingesting poison, serious burns

●          Sudden neurologic concerns such as changes in mental status, seizures, high fevers with headache and a stiff neck, sudden changes in the ability to speak, see, walk or move

●          Safety concerns and thoughts of harming themselves or others

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