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“We are really overwhelmed”: More RSV cases mean more concerns at hospitals across New Mexico

<i>KOAT</i><br/>More New Mexico hospitals are seeing a jump in respiratory syncytial virus cases among children. Staff at the University of New Mexico Hospital spoke out about the trend during a virtual press conference last week.
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KOAT
More New Mexico hospitals are seeing a jump in respiratory syncytial virus cases among children. Staff at the University of New Mexico Hospital spoke out about the trend during a virtual press conference last week.

By Breana Albizu

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    ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (KOAT) — More New Mexico hospitals are seeing a jump in respiratory syncytial virus cases among children.

The respiratory virus infects the lower lungs and could lead to severe complications like pneumonia and inflammation.

Staff at the University of New Mexico Hospital spoke out about the trend during a virtual press conference last week.

The trend is not only concerning parents but doctors as well.

Including health professionals at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.

“We are really overwhelmed with the numbers that we are encountering,” Dr. John Pederson, children’s program medical director at Presbyterian, said.

Just like UNMH, cases at Presbyterian are continuing to rise among those youngest.

Causing more stress for staff in two areas: their general pediatrics unit and their pediatrics intensive care unit.

“Pretty much on a daily basis, we are filling our beds and having to close our units to further patients,” Pederson said.

The facility has noticed the trend since August, once children headed back to school. It was also during a time when Rhinovirus cases were peaking within the hospital.

Now, officials are working closely with UNMH in the likelihood of being over-capacity.

A situation doctors and nurses had to deal with, about a year ago, after a surge of COVID-19 cases.

“[We’re] discussing our beds situation, both at UNMH and at Presbyterian, and trying to figure out the best place for kids that are waiting,” Pederson said.

Staff members at the Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces are also noticing a similar trend.

With a rise in respiratory illnesses, doctors at the facility said they’re struggling to keep pediatric beds available.

And the early onset of RSV cases isn’t helping.

“RSV has really come back with a vengeance in the last probably 45 days,” Dr. Jorge Sainz, medical director of the pediatric ICU at the center, said. “This morning, there is actually some beds available right now, but it really changes on a daily basis.”

The hospital is just one of several facilities across New Mexico dealing with the increase, including others in Texas.

Sainz said the medical center has already been asked to help with capacity.

“We have transferred some of the patients from El Paso to Las Cruces, you know, in the past to actually accommodate that surge. It’s critical,” he said.

It’s just one problem the hospital is currently working on.

However, the biggest challenge remains the ongoing nursing shortage.

“We have had a shortage of nurses, a shortage of respiratory therapists, you know, making less beds available for pediatrics and the same thing for adult medicine,” Sainz said.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of nurses within facilities has been few and far between across the United States.

Which ultimately makes operations difficult for staff to tackle RSV cases in the first place.

“Now we’re in a situation in which pediatric cases of respiratory viruses are really surging,” Pederson said. “It’s a challenge because we don’t have those nurses and the beds that we had in the pre-pandemic time.”

It’s the same challenge for staff at Presbyterian. Health officials said they’re already working with UNMH on preparations.

Just in case their pediatric units were to go over capacity.

“Discussing our beds situation, both at UNMH and at Presbyterian, and in trying to figure out the best place for kids that are waiting. I think that we’ve been able to manage that extremely well to date and have minimal waiting of kids in emergency departments,” Pederson said.

While also dealing with the overall low immunity of young children.

Something that Pederson and other doctors have noticed since the start of COVID-19.

“We now have several years in which people, their immune systems have not been exposed to these viruses,” he said. “And we had several years of children, at least two years of children now, who have not seen RSV.”

Health professionals say prevention is key when dealing with respiratory illnesses. That includes washing your hands, wearing a face mask, and staying home when sick.

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