RSV surge is putting capacity constraints on local hospitals

Kerns said the hospital is seeing more patients at this time of the year than in the past.
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 7:15 PM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —The United States is seeing a spike of respiratory virus activity, due to the so-called “tripledemic” of COVID, flu and RSV. Here in the Magic Valley one is causing more concern than the others.

If you hear someone coughing or sneezing be forewarned, as an already stressful flu and cold season is being compounded by a shortage of antiviral drugs.

“Oh yeah, there are a lot of shortages. Just things like you thought you would never run out of like Amoxicillin,” said Kurt’s Pharmacy owner Chris Johnson. “Just this morning I checked. We can’t get it so kids come in and we can’t get them the liquid biotics they need. We have to call the doctor and say this is what is available. What can we do? A lot of extra steps .”

Hospitals are also feeling the pressure. In Twin Falls the local and regional hospitals are dealing with critical issues when it comes to staffing and capacity, according to the South Central Public Health District. Chief Medical Officer for St. Luke’s Magic Valley, Jerome, and Wood River Dr. Joshua Kern said the issue is in part due to the Magic Valley population growing disproportionately.

“This may be a sort of ‘twin-demographic-demic,’ as much as a ‘tripledemic.’ We have more retirees and babies and those are the sort of people who get sick from COVID, RSV, and influenza respectively,” Kern said.

Additionally, Kerns said the hospital is seeing more patients at this time of the year than in the past.

“In 2019 this time of year our normal census would be like 120 (patients). Our census this morning was 175,” Kern said.

Here in the Magic Valley the COVID risk level is minimal according to the South Central Public Health District, and season flu activity for this time of the year in Idaho is high according to the CDC. However, RSV, the respiratory virus that disproportionately impacts young children, seems to be the one impacting the hospital the most.

“We have ten physical pediatric beds at Magic Valley and 16 patients in the hospital so we have already overflowed into what would historically not have been the pediatric floor,” Kern said. “Yeah, it’s concerning the volume.”

Additionally he said it’s like a revolving door, “Now those kids are tending to get better so there is a fair amount of turn. They get better in a couple of days they come in, and then we replace them.”

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the current weekly positivity rate for RSV is 22.6%. Last year at this time it was 21.5%. In 2020 it was less than 1%. Kern said the cause for the surge is puzzling to him..

“I have not seen any good science explanation for that(RSV surge),” said Kern. “I have asked that question. I have done some looking through the literature to see if anyone is publishing an explanation for this. I haven’t seen anything. I don’t think we know what the answer to that is.”

A surge in pediatric RSV cases has pushed Oregon children’s hospitals into crisis standards of care. The RSV surge is so widespread that there is no hospital for St. Luke’s Magic Valley to transfer RSV pediatric patients to said Kern. He said the Boise Pediatric Hospital and the University of Utah are both stretched thin.

Kern said one thing they are looking to implement to address the issue is a “suctioning clinic”, which is already being used in Boise.

“Kids that maybe would have historically gone in the hospital for RSV because they are so congested and can’t feed. They are having them come in daily and have their nose deep suctioned in a way that they can’t really do at home so they can continue to stay in the community if they don’t need oxygen,” said Kern. “So those are the types of innovations we are doing to help deal with the constraints on capacity.”

At this time there is no vaccine for RSV, but Kern said there is an antibody treatment for it.

According to the CDC some of the best practices for parent to keep their kids safe from RSV:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands
  • Limit the time they spend in childcare centers or other potentially contagious settings during periods of high RSV activity. This may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season