INDIANAPOLIS — For yet another week, Indianapolis pediatric hospitals face an early respiratory season with patients. Respiratory syncytial virus, better known as RSV, continues to spread in the community.
“When I hear that RSV is already here in October, it just puts just a sick feeling in my gut of what this respiratory season is going to be,” Heidi Pifer said.
Her son Luke was hospitalized with the virus twice within the last week. It’s the Plainfield family’s second bout with RSV. Now 4-year-old brother, Gabe, had it at 13 months old.
“We could see how hard he was breathing. We could see every single rib going up his little belly and it was pretty fast,” Pifer said.
Pifer is a local family nurse practitioner. She also worked in the pediatric intensive care unit at a local children’s hospital and treated dozens of kids with RSV.
“As a mom, my medical background goes out the window, so I’m just a regular scared mom when it comes to my kids,” Pifer said.
The Plainfield mom said Luke is doing better. The 11-month-old did not have to go to the pediatric intensive care unit for treatment.
“We're just really grateful that he's home,” Pifer said.
In Kokomo, Emilee Berkshire and her family are recovering from the virus. The mom of four said all her kids got sick with RSV, and her youngest, Tylee, had to be hospitalized.
“I will admit it was one of the scariest times of my life,” Berkshire said.
For hours, Berkshire waited in a Kokomo emergency room with her 7-month-old before being transferred to a pediatric hospital. She said the closest place they could send her with an open bed was Evansville, a nearly four-hour drive south. Tylee was rushed there by ambulance.
“As a mom, it scared me like completely because they told me that if something was to happen to her that they (did not) had some of the pediatric stuff,” Berkshire said.
She continued, “I didn't even know what the next steps were. All I could do was pray that nothing did happen and that we would get in a room. I mean, we got told at one point that we were going to go to Fort Wayne to Parkview. Then, the doctor came around and back in to say change of plans; that room is full. It's basically first come first serve.”
For the past month, WRTV has reported on capacity issues and community spread in Central Indiana when it comes to RSV, a virus more traditionally seen later in the cold and flu season. The Indiana Hospital Association said on Tuesday that 90% of pediatric beds were occupied in Central Indiana.
“Our hospitals are really working very diligently to accommodate the need of those who are coming to their facilities, but also, the community needs to be aware that there may be the possibility to receive the care that they need ... hospitals work very closely with others across the state to make sure that the care that's needed is received,” Annette Handy with the Indiana Hospital Association said.
So far this month, 113 patients tested positive for RSV at Riley Hospital for Children. Last October, that number was 33 for the entire month.
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“I think that the number one thing that parents need to be paying attention to is the child's breathing, if they see the child is struggling to breathe, that's a good time to call their health care provider,” Dr. John Christenson with Riley Hospital for Children, said.
At Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital Tuesday, doctors tell WRTV about 45% of inpatients have the virus. Over the last two weeks, about half of hospitalized patients are battling RSV.
“We don't know which way this trend is gonna go. We're planning like it may go a little bit back to that 50% or more. So (we're) planning for the worst and hope for the best,” Dr. Christopher Belcher with Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital said.
WRTV asked both doctors and the Indiana Hospital Association about the possibility of a ‘tridemic’ – a time of surging flu, RSV and COVID.
“There may be a few viruses circulating at one time, but they're affecting different groups at different ends. COVID certainly on the older end is the most severe, RSV and the younger infants, and then flu is equal opportunity. I think we can overcome this,” Dr. Belcher said.
Handy with IHA added: “I just think that it causes us to be extra cautious, and just build upon the knowledge that we've been given over the last couple of years.”
When to go to the ER
Doctors tell WRTV the biggest RSV symptom to monitor in a child is labored and/or difficulty breathing. Any sign of this should be an automatic call to your primary care physician or to the emergency room. If a child is also not drinking enough fluids or symptoms are getting worse, make a call to the doctor.
According to the CDC, the following are symptoms of the virus:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
To try and mitigate spread, experts recommend extra hand washing, sanitizing surfaces, isolating those who are sick and wearing masks. Doctors are also urging parents to get their children vaccinated against influenza and COVID-19.