Like hospitals across the country, Portland’s Maine Medical Center and other MaineHealth hospitals are increasingly seeing children admitted with respiratory syncytial virus and other respiratory infections that surge in the winter.

“Hospitals around the country and in Maine are experiencing a very large uptick of respiratory illnesses among children of all ages,” said Dr. Dora Ann Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, the parent organization of Maine Medical Center and seven other hospitals. More young patients have been admitted with RSV, “and it’s not just RSV – with other respiratory infections. Especially younger kids under 5.”

Parents in Maine have heard about rising RSV cases and are worried about their symptomatic children. A greater number of patients “is putting a strain on our pediatric emergency departments, and leading to delayed care in the emergency department and urgent care,” according to a Facebook post by Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, part of Maine Medical Center, which said it is working with other hospitals to ensure that young respiratory patients receive the care they need.

Federal health data shows that nearly three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are occupied, the Washington Post has reported. “It’s very hard to find a bed in a children’s hospital, specifically an intensive care unit bed for a kid with bad pneumonia or bad RSV because they are so full,” Dr. Jesse Hackell told the Post. Hackell chairs the committee on practice and ambulatory medicine for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

With hospitals full, a child with mild symptoms could be waiting for hours to be seen, and may be better off seeing their doctor, Mills said.

“If they’re not feeling well, and they’re older than 1 or 2 and don’t have an underlying condition, the first step should be to call their primary care doctor,” Mills said.” Their doctor knows that child the best and has immediate access to the child’s health records, she said.


Signs that babies are having trouble breathing include not eating or nursing well. “You may see their rib cages going in and out, their noses flare out when breathing,” Mills said. “They may look worried, catching their breath. They should be seen right away.”

Respiratory syncytial virus is a common virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Virtually all children get an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old, and most will experience a mild illness.

But, one to two out of every 100 children younger than 6 months with an RSV infection are often hospitalized, according to the U.S. CDC. Each year in the U.S. an estimated 58,000 children younger than 5 are hospitalized with RSV.

Reasons for the current surge of RSV and other respiratory sicknesses is not known, Mills said. “We started seeing this uptick around the country this summer.” One reason could be that with COVID-19 precautions, “kids weren’t exposed as much in the last two or three years. But all of a sudden RSV is going full blast. We don’t fully know why.”

There is no vaccine against RSV, but Mills recommends parents ensure their children are vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza to keep them healthy.

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