RSV infections are rising sharply in some parts of the country, nearly filling hospital emergency departments in Georgia, Texas and some other states.
To help counter the surge, federal officials announced Thursday that they were releasing more doses of a new RSV vaccine to newborns who were scarce .
Reports of the seasonal virus are increasing nationally, but experts said RSV is not expected to generate the kind of widespread patient traffic seen last fall, when hospitals They were overwhelmed with sick and wheezing children.
However, cases are likely to increase in more parts of the country and infections may be intense in some places, said Dr. Meredith McMorrow, an RSV expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. Laura Romano said children and parents spend 10 hours or more in the emergency department waiting room. Children are showing up sicker than in previous years and need more oxygen, Romano said.
“Last week, we had 25 children waiting in the emergency room who had been admitted for a bed upstairs, including five who needed to go to our intensive care unit,” he said. "We just don't have beds for them."
In Georgia, the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospital system is in "surge" mode because of RSV, with a high volume of patients taxing staff, said Dr. Jim Fortenberry, the system's chief medical officer.
“Our emergency departments and urgent care are extremely busy. Pediatricians’ offices are also very busy,” Fortenberry said.
It doesn't help: Newly available vaccines to protect newborns against RSV have been difficult to obtain, meaning a new medical weapon is not being fully deployed.
"It was really going to help and unfortunately there is a shortage, and we at Children's are seeing that shortage as well," Fortenberry said.
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common cause of mild cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, cough, and fever.
Still, it can be dangerous for babies and older people. The CDC estimates RSV causes 100 to 300 deaths and 58,000 to 80,000 hospitalizations each year among children 4 years of age and younger. It is the number one cause of hospitalizations in American babies, according to the CDC.
Its toll is even higher in adults aged 65 and older, causing between 6,000 and 10,000 deaths and between 60,000 and 160,000 hospitalizations, the CDC says.
RSV infections decreased during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when many children and adults stayed home and took precautions against respiratory viruses.
But last year it went up again. Hospitals were full of wheezing children, and many of them needed oxygen or even machines to help them breathe. The wave was reinforced by surges in other types of respiratory viruses which often infected children at the same time and worsened their condition, the CDC's McMorrow said.
Some of those other viruses are also circulating now. Data on RSV is limited, but available information shows that diagnoses in some states, including Georgia , Tennessee and Virginia are close to the levels observed last year. Texas has also seen a sharp rise in cases, the data suggests.
However, there are signs that the virus is already peaking in some of those states, McMorrow said. At the national level, RSV detections are only the half of those of last November.
Based on the data so far, CDC officials believe the current season will not be as bad as last year and will end up comparable to the type of RSV seasons that occurred regularly before the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Health officials have new options to combat RSV, including a vaccine for People over 60 years and a different one for pregnant women .
Additionally, the CDC recommended in August that infants younger than 8 months before their first RSV season receive a new injection of laboratory-made antibodies.
Sold under the brand name Beyfortus, the drug was developed by AstraZeneca and Sanofi. It comes in prefilled syringes in two doses, one for smaller babies and a larger dose for larger, heavier babies.
But demand has outstripped supply, prompting the CDC last month to ask doctors to prioritize doses for babies most at risk for severe RSV illness.
Part of the problem: The list price of the injections is between $400 and $500 per dose, and some doctors were wary of ordering many syringes until they were sure they would be fully reimbursed by insurance programs, said Dr. James Campbell, a specialist. in pediatric infectious diseases from the University of Maryland. expert.
Still, some doctors ordered a lot, which is why it has been more available from some health care providers than others, he said.
On Thursday, the CDC announced that more than 77,000 additional doses of larger shots would be distributed to doctors and hospitals.
Future RSV seasons may be better, said Campbell, vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases.
"Until this year, we didn't have anything that could prevent RSV," he said.