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Surge in RSV cases fill up beds at Chicago children's hospitals

Surge in RSV cases fill up beds at Chicago children's hospitals
Surge in RSV cases fill up beds at Chicago children's hospitals 03:09

CHICAGO (CBS) – Several area hospitals are struggling to keep up with the number of children hospitalized with respiratory and other viruses.

CBS 2's Jackie Kostek went to Comer Children's Hospital where pediatric beds have been full for 47 days. Hospital leaders said this respiratory virus season hit earlier, is stronger and involves multiple illnesses.

"He woke up in the middle of the night kind sort of gasping for air," said Tristan Lopez, a local mother of twin boys born prematurely.

She knows the danger of RSV and other respiratory viruses. CBS 2 spoke to the family earlier this month.

"Diego has had pneumonia three times," Lopez said. "Alex has actually been admitted into the hospital more than six times due to complications from probably RSV and other respiratory viruses."

As cases continue to surge in Chicago and across the country, hospitals are feeling the strain. Leaders at Comer Children's Hospital sent a memo to the entire University of Chicago Medial Center system on Thursday laying out the unprecedented situation: the number of children needing care is outpacing what the hospital experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and any previous respiratory season.

Compared to this time last year, pediatric emergency department volume is up 150% and has spiked 32% since just last month.

Dr. Allison Bartlett is the Pediatric Quality Chief and Comer. She said the issue goes beyond capacity.

 "No options are off the table, but really it's less physical bed space and more of a trained pediatric nurses, respiratory therapists and ancillary specialists to help care for all the children and that really is a staffing shortage of people who are qualified to care for this population," said Bartlett.

Bartlett said the COVID-19 pandemic served as a valuable lesson in how hospitals can flex their space and resources to accommodate patients. But on the flip side, the pandemic, and the associated isolation, may partially be to blame for the current surge in sick children. Bartlett said while RSV is incredibly common, it tends to be worse the first time kids get it.

"This may be their first RSV infection that they've had and instead of getting them universally in their first or second year of life, we have some three-year-olds who haven't had a first RSV infection," she said.

Comer is far from the only hospital in the area struggling with capacity. The city's Public Health Department said there have been days where available pediatric intensive care unit beds were in the single digits across the city.

Lurie Children's Hospital said their inpatient is full right now as well but the good news, if there is any, is that these hospitals are working together to tackle the surge and finding ways to care for the children who need care.

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