Doctors see RSV cases rise in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Health officials have seen a rise in RSV cases in just the last two weeks.

“We are seeing more cases this year than we did last year and certainly pre-pandemic, enough that it has caught our attention, and we are monitoring things fairly closely,” said Dr. Martha L. Muller with the UNM Health Sciences Center. 

These cases are impacting families and adding stress to hospitals, which are already facing a nursing shortage.

“We have been running around 100% capacity for the last about 10 days with patients bedded i on alternative areas that we take that capacity number up,” said Maribeth Thorton, an associate chief nursing officer at UNM Children’s Hospital. 

RSV is a respiratory virus that’s typically found in children younger than five years old. Adults can catch it too – but are not as much of a risk as infants and children.

Officials stressed the importance of knowing the symptoms of RSV.

“Children who are working harder to breathe, they’re breathing faster. They may not be taking liquid liquids and very well resulting in dehydration,” said Dr. Anna L. Duran, a pediatrician and associate chief medical officer for UNM Children’s Hospital. “As the respiratory distress progresses, what you start seeing as they become more hypoxic, meaning they start to require oxygen to breathe more comfortably.” 

So why are officials seeing a rapid rise of RSV cases in the state?

“Certainly this opening of things back up since the pandemic and children and adults in closed spaces again, without some of the mitigating things that we were doing during COVID,” Muller said. “It certainly may affect the season and I anticipate that’s part of why we’re seeing some of the increased cases of RSV.”

Right now, there’s no vaccine for RSV. Just like many viruses, underlying conditions can put an infant or young child at a higher risk.

“Any parent or guardian who feels that maybe their kiddo may fall into a category where they could be at higher risk of severe disease to talk with their primary care provider to see if they would qualify for any preventive therapy,” said Muller. 

Doctors and health professionals spoke on the fact that they are reaching capacity, but that they can expand if needed. They said they are collaborating with other hospitals in the state to keep an eye on bed capacity for pediatric patients — since the number of pediatric beds in the state is a little more limited.

Workers at day care providers like Little Butterflies Learning Center in Albuquerque are also having to keep a closer eye on those sniffles. 

“We knew we needed to up our precautions and what we were doing,” said Marissa Hines, director and owner of Little Butterflies Learning Center.

Hines already had four babies hospitalized with RSV this season

“That makes me nervous that we’ve already had kids with RSV and hospitalized at the middle of September, and we’re not even at that season yet,” she said. 

Constant cleaning is now the name of the game.

“Wiping toys down, cribs, making sure all our ages are washing their hands more often, teaching the older ones to sneeze in their arms,” said Hines. 

Because she knows there’s a higher risk in a day care setting.

“Kids are constantly putting stuff in their mouth and touching each other, so you’re gonna be more sick when your child does come to a day care setting so that’s– we wanna be on top of that,” Hines said. “I believe every center out there is dealing with the same thing and has probably had a lot of kids that have been hospitalized with RSV. So, I know it’s not just my center there’s other centers out there, and I’m afraid it’s gonna just get worse for everybody.”

If that’s the case, Dr. Chelsea Sanchez with Journey Pediatrics, says pediatricians like her are ready for it.

“We braced for it in 2021, and we didn’t quite see it and so now as COVID seems to be kind of slowing down it’s prime time for RSV and flu to come back,” Sanchez said. 

She explained what sets RSV apart from other viruses.

“RSV to us stands for the “Really Snotty Virus.” So it’s a lot– copious copious mucus coming out of their nose like the faucet’s been turned on,” said Sanchez. “That head cold they can see with runny nose and cough can then sink down into their chest and cause a lower respiratory tract infection or a chest cold and that’s what gets kids in trouble.”

She echoes other health professionals who say the pandemic might be partially to blame.

“Our bodies are meant to see viruses our immune systems are ready to pounce, and we just haven’t had those priming situations where people have been sick every year. So now the masks are off we’re back around each other which is great and the exposure is there,” Sanchez said.

But doctors know how to handle it.

“Watch out for those really heavy signs and symptoms if they’re so congested they’re not drinking well and they’re getting dehydrated that’s when we come into play,” said Sanchez. 

Sanchez also recommends keeping your babies hydrated, and keeping their noses clean. She also recommends vitamin C and D to help keep their immune systems strong this season.

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