Multnomah County health officials urge many families to reconsider Thanksgiving as RSV infections increase

Multnomah County health officials recommend that families with children 3 and younger consider skipping Thanksgiving gatherings. They say anyone feeling ill, anyone in fragile health, and anyone who is elderly should also consider making other plans to avoid the spread of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a respiratory disease.

The current rise in height is “a peak I haven’t seen in 30 years when I was a pediatrician,” said Dr. Ann Loeffler, a pediatric infectious disease expert and deputy county health officer.

“Unfortunately, that means we all have to do our part,” Loeffler said. “In terms of Thanksgiving gatherings, I would just like to ask every household across the United States where else we are seeing an increase in RSV and at risk of not being able to hospitalize more children.”

Although it is a common childhood illness and usually not serious, many children are getting respiratory syncytial virus for the first time this year after two years of pandemic restrictions. Now, preschoolers who have limited immunity to the disease are giving the bug back to their younger siblings. Children who contract RSV are at increased risk of developing breathing problems if they become infected with it. Officials believe this is among the main reasons why this year’s RSV season is so severe and why all pediatric intensive care beds in the county are being used.

Both of our children’s hospitals have announced that they have converted to Standards of Crisis Care. That usually means they’re at capacity, said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer. “They care how many patients they can do just that, and there’s no way to get the next patient out.”

Because there are limited resources available to treat sick children, Vines said this is a vacation to “keep your kids close.”

OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Randall Children’s Hospital, both in Portland, announced this week that they will have nurses treat more patients at one time in an effort to provide additional beds for young patients who need intensive care.

The crisis in the children’s family has made it difficult for teens experiencing mental health crises to get the care they need, too, the OPB reported.

While masks can help protect against spread, especially if they are worn by someone who is actively sick, RSV is mainly spread on surfaces where the bug can linger for hours. Hand washing and wiping down surfaces is an excellent way to prevent its spread. Also, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised should avoid hugging and kissing young children who are showing signs of illness.

A runny nose is usually the first sign of respiratory syncytial virus, followed by a sore throat, fever, lethargy, and a cough that may last for a few weeks. Most children, including infants, can be kept at home to manage symptoms. The main thing is to keep the infant’s airways clear by using a suction device, also known as a snot sucker, to clear the nasal passages. Older children should blow their nose more often. A steamy shower helps loosen the mucus in the small nasal passages.

Caregivers also need to keep babies hydrated. In addition to aiding recovery, it helps keep mucus thin. Gatorade and Pedialyte are good choices, as well as water.

If a child is struggling to breathe or is excessively droopy and tired, especially if their nose is clear and they don’t have a fever, they should be brought to the emergency room no matter how busy they are, Loeffler said. A young child who is struggling to breathe will not babble or talk as usual and will use his stomach muscles to pump air into his lungs. If their stomach is sucking in from under their ribs in what are known as “contractions,” see a doctor.

With flu rates rising and COVID-19 also starting to spread, health officials say you should continue to take care and get vaccinated against anything you can do — including whooping cough — to stay healthy and help prevent the spread of the disease.

“This is an evolving situation. So we will be watching hospital capacity very closely,” Vines said. “The path is very difficult, at least a month to come, maybe more.”

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To learn more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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