© 2024 KUAF
NPR Affiliate since 1985
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Respiratory infections are surging among children


There is a surge of respiratory infections among children, and that's not COVID-19. RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, is quite common, but it can be dangerous for infants and children. And it's hitting especially early in parts of the U.S. this year. Dr. Douglas Carlson, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, Ill. - he's also medical director at St. John's Children's Hospital. Dr. Carlson, thanks so much for being with us.

DOUGLAS CARLSON: You're very welcome. Thank you.

SIMON: And have hospitals in central and southern Illinois been getting filled?

CARLSON: They have been, as we've been saying, across the entire state of Illinois, Midwest and really the whole country.

SIMON: Do people need critical care?

CARLSON: Yes. A subset of kids are going into respiratory failure. So we're calling around to PICUs around the state and are unable to find an open bed for a patient.

SIMON: Mercy. Well, help us understand RSV, why it can particularly afflict young children.

CARLSON: Yeah, respiratory virus is a respiratory virus that we saw on an annual basis between November and March each year until 2020 - because of the masking and distancing, took a year off. Saw a little surge, but early last year in the fall of 2021. This year, we saw it coming through the southern hemisphere and did hit the United States in August and has come through central Illinois with a vengeance, starting in really the end of September, early October. And for the last three or four weeks, the number of children that have needed to be admitted - for a few days, just to watch - has really gone up. Every day we're getting calls from around the state of Illinois to see if we have an open bed. Some days we say yes. Most days we say not. And other days we're calling around the state. And sometimes we need to keep kids in our emergency room under critical care circumstances for a day or two at a time until we find an open bed.

SIMON: When you're in Springfield, where do you call - I mean, St. Louis, Knoxville?

CARLSON: Yeah. We're 100 miles from St. Louis, 200 miles from Chicago. Because we took a couple of patients from the Chicago suburbs, we're getting calls from 10 or 15 hospitals a day. Can you take another? It's really hard for Springfield to be the safety net for the suburban Chicago. But we do what we can, and then we need to take care of the patients in our region. So it really is an exchange of trying to get - every time a bed is open, figuring out where that next patient is coming from, either your own emergency room or someone else's emergency department.

SIMON: And with the persistence of COVID-19 and now flu, does that stretch all the resources you need?

CARLSON: Yeah. Luckily COVID is still around at a significant level, but not that many kids are getting sick from it. We are really worried about influenza. The numbers of positive tests have just started to climb, and usually that's a harbinger that within a few weeks or a month or two that will be indicating another peak of flu (ph). So the combination of the two, which is likely to happen, could even make this worse.

SIMON: Is there anything parents can do?

CARLSON: You know, take precautions. This does most often affect severely very young or those that have had previously, were born prematurely, have heart disease, lung disease. Just be careful. If you have a cold, be careful. Wash your hands. Don't take your young children into environments where they're likely to catch a cold from others. If a relative has a cold, say, hey, wait till you're over that cold. It's the usual precautions - washing your hands frequently when you take care of others and just taking precautions.

SIMON: Masks?

CARLSON: Mask. If you have a cold, as a parent, I think it is important to wear that mask because that masks do prevent the spread of RSV.

SIMON: Should schools be telling youngsters to put on masks if they have the sniffles?

CARLSON: I'm not going to go that far right now. I think what's more important is that when your child is sick, recognize they're sick and don't send them to school, so we don't spread this and make it worse for all.

SIMON: Dr. Douglas Carlson of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, thank you so much for being with us, sir.

CARLSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.