Multnomah County health officials are urging many families to reconsider Thanksgiving as RSV infections rise

Multnomah County health officials are recommending families with children under the age of 3 skip Thanksgiving gatherings. They say anyone feeling ill, anyone in frail health and anyone elderly should also consider other plans to avoid the spread of RSV, a respiratory disease.

The current increase is “a peak not seen in the 30 years that I’ve been a pediatrician,” said Dr. Ann Loeffler, pediatric infectious disease expert and assistant county health officer.

“Unfortunately, that means we all have to do our part,” Loeffler said. “Regarding the Thanksgiving gatherings, I would just ask every single family in the United States in every other place where we are seeing an increase in RSV and are at risk of running out of capacity to hospitalize more children. ”

Although it is a common childhood disease and is not usually dangerous, many children are getting RSV for the first time this year after two years of pandemic restrictions. Now preschoolers with limited immunity to the disease are bringing the bug home to siblings. And babies who contract RSV are at high risk of breathing problems if they get it. Officials believe this is one of the main reasons this year’s RSV season is so intense and why all of the county’s pediatric intensive care beds are in use.

“Our two children’s hospitals announced that they had switched to the care standards of crisis care. That usually means they’re running at full capacity,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer. “They are taking care of as many patients as they are absolutely able to, and there is no way they can transfer the next patient.”

Given the limited resources available to treat sick children, Vines said this is a holiday to “keep your kids close”.

Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at OHSU and Randall Children’s Hospital, both in Portland, announced this week that nurses will treat more patients at a time to free up additional beds for young patients who need critical care.

The shortage of cribs has made it difficult for teenagers with mental health crises to also get the care they need, OPB has reported.

Prevent RSV

While masks can help protect against spread, especially when worn by someone who is actively ill, RSV primarily spreads on surfaces where the bug can last for hours. Washing hands and wiping surfaces is an excellent way to prevent spread. Elderly and immunocompromised people should also avoid hugging and kissing young children with signs of illness.

A runny nose is usually the first sign of RSV, followed by a sore throat, fever, lethargy, and cough that can last for a few weeks. Most children, including babies, can stay home to treat symptoms. The most important thing is to keep infants’ airways clear by using a suction device, also called a snot sucker, to clear the nasal passages. Older children should blow their nose frequently. Steam showers help loosen mucus in small nasal passages.

Caregivers must also keep the children hydrated. In addition to aiding recovery, it helps keep mucus thinner. Gatorade and Pedialyte are good options along with water.

If a child is having trouble breathing or is excessively limp and tired, especially if their nose is clean and they don’t have a fever, they should be taken to the emergency room, no matter how busy they are, Loeffler said. A young child who is struggling to breathe will not babble or talk as normal and will use their abdominal muscles to pump air into their lungs. If the stomach pulls under the ribs during what are known as “retractions,” see a doctor.

With the flu on the rise and COVID-19 also beginning to rise, health officials say you should remain vigilant and get vaccinated for everything you can — including whooping cough — to stay healthy and prevent the spread of disease.

“This is an evolving situation. So we’re going to be monitoring hospital capacity very closely,” Vines said. “The trajectory is for a very difficult one, at least a month ahead and probably more.”

Frozen turkeys wrapped in plastic in a stack

A file photo of turkeys in a refrigerator at a grocery store in Philadelphia, Monday, November 21, 2022. On Wednesday, public health officials in Multnomah County, Oregon urged people to cancel Thanksgiving dinner plans involving children under 3 and adults people with immune disorders.

Matt Rourke/AP

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