New York City ERs are stressed to the max to treat respiratory syncytial virus – a disease commonly known as RSV which has seen an increase in cases over the past two months, according to the data.
“It’s at the highest level we’ve ever seen,” Dr. James Schneider, head of the pediatric intensive care unit at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens, told The Post on Wednesday.
“We take in more children than we have beds.
Data from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows a rapid increase in RSV cases in recent months, with an increase by almost ten of known cases since mid-September.
Last week alone, there were more than 4,500 positive cases in the city, according to the department’s most recent data.
The virus, which usually causes mild cold-like symptoms in older children and healthy adults, is quite common and highly transmissible. While many cases of RSV can be treated at home — and nearly all children in the United States catch the virus before age 2 — it can quickly become serious for the very old and very young.
Historically, some 80,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized with RSV each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year, however, the disease is spreading faster, Schneider said.
“Every winter, most pediatric emergency departments are filled with RSV-infected infants,” said the doctor, who has worked in the field for 18 years. “It’s not a new emerging virus throwing a curveball at us.”
What is new, however, is the number of infections. Schneider told the Post that his 37-bed pediatric intensive care unit was already over capacity, with more than half of his patients with RSV.
“On a daily basis, we use more than 37 places,” he said.
“We usually see the peak [of RSV cases] in December or January,” he said, adding that those usual numbers had already been exceeded this month.
Schneider pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a contributing factor to the rise in RSV infections.
“Over the past two years, we have instituted restrictions on our behavior [due to the pandemic] – masking, social distancing, school closures,” he said.
As a result, Schnieder said, “There has been very little transmission of these easily transmitted respiratory viruses.”
“There is not as much immunity in the community,” he added, and the diseases were now spreading among children “now that they are unmasked and back in school.”
The spike in cases has New York parents worried.
Mum-of-two Samantha Clifford, 36, said her youngest son, 6, has Down syndrome and has been hospitalized with RSV for the past three years.
“I’m worried,” the Upper West Side nurse said. “We haven’t had it this year – fingers crossed.”
Lindsay Cline, 39, mum-of-three, added: “It’s going to be six long months of winter.”
“Children never got sick at school when they were wearing masks – you don’t get sick in a bubble – but now the masks are off, the disease is spreading,” she said.
“My little [3-year-old] Guy was born during COVID, so he doesn’t have as many antibodies as he normally would. He falls ill more often than usual.
Mum Rani Simpson, 39, suspects she, her husband and their two daughters have all contracted RSV – although they have not been tested for it.
“My youngest daughter had a fever for five days and an awful cough,” she said. “I was afraid it was pneumonia because the cough was so bad.”
“I think my husband now has RSV,” she added. “He is at home sick in bed. He has been ill since Monday.
RSV is hardest on infants, as well as children with pre-existing conditions like asthma. Schneider said many of his RSV patients require some form of mechanical ventilation to keep breathing.
The disease also affects the elderly, with the CDC estimating that 6,000 to 10,000 adult deaths from RSV each year.
Typically, once in intensive care, Schneider said, children improve quickly, stopping ventilation within days — although severe or complicated cases can sometimes require a week or more of intensive care.
The biggest danger at the moment, Schneider said, is keeping intensive care beds open — especially with expected winter spikes in flu and COVID infections still on the horizon.
“For children and adults who are eligible for flu and COVID vaccines, they should get them,” he said. “Let’s try to minimize the burden of flu and COVID this winter.”