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Respiratory Virus Surge Continues To Fill Pediatric OC Hospital Beds

A blue-gloved health care worker administers a shot in a child's upper right arm.
Zelena Nicole Camargo Castellanos,10, receives a vaccine dose.
(Alborz Kamalizad
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Orange County remains in a public health emergency as sick children continue to fill up pediatric beds. Infections related to RSV are causing record numbers of child hospitalizations across the country. Older children are being sent to adult hospitals while specialty pediatric care is reserved for the youngest and most vulnerable patients.

OC health officials declared the public health emergency at the beginning of November and are pleading with caregivers to get children vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, and keep them home from school or daycare if they are sick.

Why it matters

Hospitals across the country are sounding the alarm as pediatric intensive care units and children’s hospitals are being overwhelmed with sick children. Health workers are facing an unusually early season of RSV in addition to other circulating respiratory viruses.

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What is RSV?

RSV is a seasonal virus that for most people causes something like a cold. But it can become more serious, even life-threatening, especially for babies and other young children and older people. Babies younger than 6 months old have the highest rates of hospitalization for RSV compared to any other age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As kids get older, hospitalization rates fall.

There is no vaccine for RSV (though some are in development.) Young children are the least vaccinated age group against COVID. Less than 6% of children under 5 have received the vaccine in California.

What's the situation in L.A. County?

L.A. County has more pediatric hospital capacity than Orange County, “so we’re better off,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a press conference Thursday.

“It's important to note that many hospitals have only a small number of pediatric beds, meaning that as few as nine or ten new hospitalizations can have the potential to put a hospital at capacity for their pediatric patients,” Ferrer said.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.