State and local health care officials are warning parents of the rapid spread of a respiratory virus known as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). The rate of infection has tripled the past three weeks, filling hospital pediatric units to capacity.
St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, eight pediatric rooms are full with children struggling to breathe as they fight RSV.
RSV causes bronchiolitis, which is inflammation of tiny airways in the lungs.
Infants and very young children have more trouble breathing when their lungs fill with mucus because their airways are small.
Children from a few weeks to a few years old represent most of those currently hospitalized at St. Charles.
“For children who have a lot of respiratory distress, sometimes they need extra help with breathing,” said Dr. Suzanne Mendez, Medical Director of Pediatrics at St. Charles. “Whether that’s a device that blows some pressure into their lungs to keep their lungs inflated, or we have had a few children who required mechanical ventilation where they need to be on a breathing tube and have the ventilator do the work of breathing for them.”
On Monday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued executive orders giving hospitals additional flexibility to draw from pools of volunteer nurses and doctors in response to the surge in pediatric respiratory virus cases.
“If we hit capacity, sometimes we can’t take children from the northern campuses (Redmond, Madras and Prineville) which means they have to go Portland which can be really hard. Portland’s been at capacity as well, the two children’s hospitals in the state (OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emmanuel) and that’s made it challenging,” Mendez said. “We have had the capability to put a few kids in the adult ICU and we have pediatric trained nurses there as well. That’s been helpful when beds and staffing allow.”
Bend-La Pine School District reports an increased number of students out with illness right now.
While education officials cannot say what illnesses are keeping students out of school, respiratory concerns are common, as is fever.
Health officials encourage everyone to help prevent the spread of illness by staying home when they are sick, covering sneezes and coughs and practicing good hand hygiene.
“As RSV peaks we are seeing a lot more flu cases. We do have vaccinations for flu and for COVID-19. You really don’t want to get RSV and flu together so we are recommending vaccinations,” Mendez said.