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Mountain West hospitals grapple with spikes in respiratory infections

Health experts agree that the unseasonably early surges of RSV cases, especially among children, are a consequence of lifting COVID-19 precautions, which served to protect the public from a variety of viruses.
AP
Health experts agree that the unseasonably early surges of RSV cases, especially among children, are a consequence of lifting COVID-19 precautions, which served to protect the public from a variety of viruses.

News brief: 

Health officials across the Mountain West are facing a triple threat of increased infections of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Many hospitals, especially pediatric facilities, report being short on staff and beds as they grapple with a surge in patients.

RSV is mild for most kids and adults but can be more serious in infants and toddlers. Spikes in rising cases or hospitalizations in children have been reported in the past month in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah Idaho and Wyoming.

Dr. Kevin Carney at Children’s Hospital Colorado said in a recent press conference that this season has been unlike anything he’s seen before.

“Our inpatient floors and intensive care units have been functioning at or above their maximum capacity for several weeks, and our emergency departments are seeing a record volume of patients,” Carney said.

Experts have speculated that a decline in masking and general hygiene practices could be one reason for the increase in respiratory viruses. Others say an “immunity gap” among children who have been exposed to fewer pathogens than normal over the past two years could be a factor.

No matter the cause, Carney suggests getting flu and COVID-19 vaccinations and staying home when sick to prevent spreading viruses. And he reminds families to keep up good hygiene and sanitation practices.

“We certainly support everybody taking as many preventative measures as possible to prevent the spread of these illnesses, including washing your hands, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing masks when you're symptomatic and, please, not sending kids to school when they're sick,” Carney said.

Colorado and New Mexico currently lead the region in terms of influenza infections, according to the CDC.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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