With pandemic persisting, pediatric respiratory cases filling hospitals

childtempreading-150x150Lest anyone think the coronavirus pandemic is not taking a significant toll on this country still, just look at the worrisome conditions prevailing in overflowing pediatric hospitals and the bracing data on how whites gradually have become more likely to die from the infectious disease than blacks.

Doctors and hospitals say they are struggling with a desperate lack of pediatric space to care for increasing numbers of children with various respiratory illnesses, especially respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. This is a major problem in the DMV (the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) where hospitals told the Washington Post that they full up with sick kids and scrambling:

“Children’s National Hospital in Northwest D.C., as well as the children’s hospitals at Inova Fairfax in Northern Virginia and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, which represent a total of more than 650 beds, are at capacity, physicians at the hospitals said this week. Pediatricians locally and nationally report a spike in cases of respiratory illnesses such as RSV and rhinovirus — the common cold virus — which for the second consecutive year have hit earlier and made kids sicker than usual. At the same time, the coronavirus continues to circulate, and hospitals are bracing for a severe flu season.”

The sickness may be exploding now, seasonally much earlier than usual, doctors say, because too many people are discarding health measures that were targeted against covid but also help keep down the spread of other contagious diseases, too. Face coverings, distancing, and, yes, vaccinations have helped to slash the pandemic’s once-virulent consequences. Kids benefited from these health measures, which also may have prevented them from developing and building natural immunities that would better protect them as the world has reopened and youngsters have returned to school and normalcy in their lives. Experts also note that youngsters’ immune systems may be impaired because they had asymptomatic cases of the coronavirus, which is known to impair many body functions.

Many hospitals, meantime, had reduced their pediatric capacity during the pandemic to better deal with overwhelming numbers of sick adults. And the institutions have not restored their kid care space.

Vaccinations can be key

A crucial way for grownups to better protect kids, of course, is to get them vaccinated, doctors say. Shots are a safe and effective way to safeguard youngsters and all the rest of us from the coronavirus and the flu, with federal regulators recently having approved for pediatric uses a new booster targeted at the Omicron variants circulating widely.

The vaccines, to be sure, are not foolproof. But they have shown marked success in preventing those who get them from infectious diseases’ most dire outcomes, including costly hospitalizations and death. Public health officials, though, have campaigned this fall with limited results in getting regular folks to get protective vaccinations to avert a potential, problematic surge in cases of the coronavirus, flu, and other infections, including the common cold.

The coronavirus, just to remind, has killed 1.1 million Americans and infected 97 million of us. Those figures likely are underestimates. The disease’s pernicious effects persist, too, hospitalizing 27,000 patients daily on average and killing 400 people daily on average. Influenza and pneumonia, federal officials say, kills more than 50,000 people on average each year. The flu and its related lung and heart complications hospitalizes on average 200,000 patients annually, studies indicate.

As for RSV, this common respiratory virus usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported. But the disease annually also is blamed for 2.1 million outpatient (non-hospitalization) visits among children younger than 5 years old, 58,000 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old, 177,000 hospitalizations among adults 65 years and older, 14,000 deaths among adults 65 years and older, and 100–300 deaths in children younger than 5 years old.

In my practice, I not only see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the  clear benefits they can reap by staying healthy and far away from the U.S. health care system. It is, according to research conducted in pre-coronavirus pandemic times, fraught with medical errorpreventable hospital acquired illnesses and deaths, and misdiagnoses.

Having a kid sick enough to require hospitalization is a nightmare no one wants to experience. With experts warning that this may be a bumpy flu season atop the sustained problems of the pandemic, all of us must be not only forewarned but forearmed. Talk to your doctors and pediatricians. Get yourself and those you love, especially the kids, vaccinated against (emphasis added) preventable, contagious diseases. If you or those you know and love get sick, please stay home. Encourage all you know to practice the basic hygienic measures that folks so recently obsessed about, including hand washing and covering the mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing. If you or your loved ones have underlying, existing health conditions, don’t hesitate to keep wearing face masks; they’re rarer these days but they haven’t disappeared and may be more prevalent as temperatures fall.

Let’s battle medical bunk, too

Here’s another nasty health menace that we all can step up our fight against, too: It’s the raging infodemic, which is what experts call the viral spread of medical bunk. It was a horror of the previous presidential administration and its bungled pandemic response — which was maybe even worse than excellent media investigations showed at the time, congressional investigators have found. Apparatchiks for craven political reasons have attacked doctors, medical scientists, and other serious caregivers for trying to care for people, notably in federal, state, and other public service positions.

The anti-science, counterfactual crowd not only sowed chaos and undercut efforts to quell the pandemic, their nihilistic, extreme disinformation campaigns caused demonstrable harm. As the Washington Post has reported, experts are still sorting out the preventable pandemic toll of deaths, debilitation, and other hardship traceable to spreading falsehoods that persuaded older, conservative Americans to defy even the simplest steps that could have protected and even saved their lives. The fact- and evidence-free nonsense spouted24/7 by extremists has made it so that whites — many of them older, conservative, rural, and southern — are more likely to die of the coronavirus than blacks. This is a huge reverse from the pandemic’s early days, when existing, crushing disparities in health care meant blacks and communities of color suffered the coronavirus’ harms most.

Fact-free fear mongers have not stopped. They have sought to create a new uproar among parents and other grownups in recent days by erroneously claiming that federal officials planned to require coronavirus shots for all kids. This, of course, is something U.S. officials cannot do because it is an authority reserved to states and other jurisdictions.

But that’s not the point to the zealots. Why not disrupt health care right before midterm elections and even as pediatric hospitals struggle to treat a growing emergency with what could be potentially preventable illnesses? Unacceptable.

We have much work to do to quell the pandemic and to keep our kids healthy and thriving.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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