A mother whose young son was admitted to a Winnipeg intensive care unit with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is warning parents to be vigilant as several viruses are circulating this fall.
Lauren Kelly says her nearly two-year-old daughter was healthy before October.
Earlier this month, the boy contracted COVID-19 and hasn’t really recovered, Kelly said.
She took her daughter to the Health Sciences Center last Friday, and the girl was admitted to the pediatric ICU with a diagnosis of RSV after a course of asthma medication failed to fix her breathing problems.
“She’s not the kind of girl we expected to bring to the ER with a common cold,” Kelly said.
RSV symptoms resemble those of colds and the flu, including cough, runny nose, fever, and loss of appetite, but can worsen and affect a child’s breathing.
Kelly’s daughter was released from the ICU on Monday and is breathing much better, but the experience was “terrifying. It’s certainly not something I would wish on any parent,” she said.
The girl must be able to breathe without additional oxygen for at least 24 hours before being discharged from the hospital. The family hopes to be able to take her home on Saturday.
Still, Kelly says she worries about taking her daughter back to day care because she’s now more susceptible to serious outcomes from other infections.
She hopes that other parents will be careful, knowing that COVID-19, RSV and other viruses are circulating.
“Parents need to know that this virus is circulating and that it can cause serious outcomes in children, even without risk factors. So I think parents need to be more vigilant about that,” Kelly said.
Respiratory problems on the rise in Manitoba
On Thursday, the director of the Health Sciences Center said that Winnipeg Children’s Hospital is seeing an increase in the number of children being admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems, including RSV.
Since July, there have been 46 RSV-related hospitalizations at Children’s Hospital, a Manitoba Shared Health spokesperson said in an email Friday.
There have been 11 RSV-related hospitalizations so far in October, two of which required admission to the pediatric intensive care unit, the spokesman said.
In addition, 188 children have attended the Children’s Hospital since July with acute bronchiolitis, which in the vast majority of cases is caused by RSV. There have been 36 such cases so far in October, including 11 that were serious enough for children to be admitted to hospital.
Dr. Elisabete Doyle, medical director and section chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital, says staff typically don’t see an increase in RSV cases until November. This year, that increase began in July.
Doyle says the virus is particularly serious for babies younger than three months, premature babies, or those with underlying conditions.
But any child should be taken to the hospital if they experience severe symptoms, such as choking cough, are very tired or have difficulty breathing, he said.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, cold and flu season, and the many cases of RSV, Doyle says hospital staff are concerned.
“To a degree, we’re treading water that we haven’t stepped into before. It’s a bit of an unknown. We have all these viruses, the perfect storm in terms of respiratory viruses, and we’re going to have to see what the future holds.”
The hospital is preparing by making sure parents know where to take their children when they get sick and that there is enough space and staff to care for them.
However, staffing is an ongoing challenge in Manitoba, so Doyle asks parents to do their part.
“We have a shared responsibility to make sure we get these things under control,” he said.
“The more parents can do at home in terms of keeping their own babies safe and minimizing exposure and [getting] vaccinated and that sort of thing, that will help.
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