Advocate Children's Hospital

Doctors Warn of Unusual Increases in Serious Respiratory Illness Among Children

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While coronavirus cases and hospitalizations among children are continuing to increase in the United States, another respiratory virus is rapidly spreading and causing increased hospitalizations as well.

That virus, known as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), is causing increasing hospitalizations across the country, including in Illinois.

One local family knows just how scary the virus can be. Paula Ebener says that her entire family contracted the virus after her daughter had what she thought was just a cold.

Ebener’s infant daughter Maria Luisa also contracted the virus, sending her to the pediatric emergency room when she was just two weeks old.

“She started out really congested. She didn’t want to eat and she was sleeping too much,” Ebener says.

The virus ultimately spread to the entire family, part of what doctors and health officials say is an extremely unusual summertime surge in cases.

“In general, RSV normally peaks November to March, but this year we’re seeing it a lot earlier,” Dr. Alin Abraham, an internist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, says.

The virus may appear as congestion in older children and adults, but it can be particularly dangerous for the elderly and for infants.

“It is one of the leading causes of hospitalization for children under 1,” Dr. Michael Cappello, vice chairman of Advocate Children’s Hospital, says.  

The increases in RSV and in COVID are causing a rapid increase in intensive care unit admissions at several area children’s hospitals, including at Advocate. According to the latest numbers, 19 of the pediatric ICU beds at the hospital are currently full, and doctors say that the extremely unusual spike in RSV cases is a big part of the reason why.

“Our positivity rate for RSV right now is 44%. That’s a lot, especially at this time of year,” Cappello says.

Parents are being asked to look for symptoms of the virus. If a child has difficulty breathing, is refusing to eat or drink, or has blue tint to their lips or fingertips, parents are asked to bring them to the ER right away, or to consult a physician.

Fortunately for the Ebener family, Maria Luisa is improving.

“She’s been getting oxygen and they’re being really, really good,” Paula Ebener says. “She’s doing really good here.”

Abraham says that parents need to take care to protect their children from respiratory illness, and to watch closely for warning signs.

“There are other viruses out there like RSV that are still very serious and are still important,” the physician says.

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