Elementary school children sitting down in a gym
By Michael Haederle

Immunity Gap

Susceptibility to Viral Illnesses Driving a Surge in Pediatric Hospitalizations

Children staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic likely created an “immunity gap” that is driving a surge of pediatric illnesses that are placing a growing strain on New Mexico hospitals.

Many kids who normally would have been exposed to common viruses like RSV and influenza at an early age were isolated from others for up to two years, meaning they never developed immunity to these diseases – and now they are falling ill.

Pediatric wards in New Mexico are at or above their licensed capacity, said physicians from The University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Lovelace Health System during a joint news conference on Monday (Nov. 14).

“It’s exceptionally important that we all work together to do whatever we can to accommodate the numbers of patients that we’re seeing now,” said Vesta Sandoval, MD, chief medical officer at Lovelace.

“We are above capacity in our children’s units,” added Maribeth Thornton, PhD, MBA, RN, associate chief nursing officer at UNM Children’s Hospital, where officials recently activated an emergency operations center to better manage the surge.

“It may take a little bit longer for your children to be seen in the emergency room or the pediatric urgent care center, but we are here to serve the community,” she said.

“We are also running at and above capacity on a daily basis,” said John Pederson, MD, Children’s Program medical director at Presbyterian. “We’re also meeting as a leadership team on a daily basis to discuss how we can better utilize and streamline care.”

Anna Duran, MD, associate chief medical officer at UNM Children’s Hospital, noted that many viral infections have similar symptoms, such as cough, congestion, fever, sore throat and diarrhea. “Knowing when to seek medical care and where to seek medical care is important,” she said.

Most fevers can be treated at home with acetaminophen and, in children older than 6 months, ibuprofen. When fever lasts longer than three days or in cases of dehydration, a visit to an urgent care center might be in order, she said. Children suffering from severe dehydration or difficulty breathing should be seen at an ER.

All three physicians stressed the importance of prevention, starting with keeping sick adults or siblings from passing along viruses to others. “People who are ill should limit exposure to family during the holidays,” Duran said. “If you’re sick, please stay at home. Keep everyone else in your family well.”

To learn more, visit the Center for Disease Control website on Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV)
Categories: Health, News You Can Use, Research, Top Stories