New York City emergency rooms are stressed to the max treating respiratory syncytial virus — an illness commonly called RSV that’s seen a surge in cases over the past two months, data shows.
“It’s at the highest levels any of us have ever seen,” Dr. James Schneider, head of the pediatric intensive care unit at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens, told The Post Wednesday.
“We’re caring for more kids than we have beds for.”
Data from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows a rapid increase in RSV cases in recent months, with a nearly tenfold increase in known cases since mid-September.
Last week alone, there were more than 4,500 positive cases in the city, according to the department’s most recent data.
The virus, which typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms in older children and healthy adults, is fairly common and highly transmissible. While many cases of RSV can be treated at home — and nearly every child in the US catches the virus by the time they’re 2 years old — it can quickly become severe for the very old and the very young.
Historically, some 80,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized with RSV each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year, however, the disease is spreading more quickly, Schneider said.
“Every winter, most pediatric emergency departments are full of infants with RSV,” said the doctor, who’s worked in the field for 18 years. “This isn’t an emerging new virus that’s throwing us a curveball.”
What is new, however, is the sheer number of infections. Schneider told The Post his 37-bed pediatric ICU is already over capacity, with more than half of his patients sick with RSV.
“On a daily basis, we’re using more than 37 spaces,” he said.
“We usually see the peak [of RSV cases] in December or January,” he said, adding that those usual numbers have already been surpassed this month.
Schneider pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic being a contributing factor in the uptick in RSV infections.
“Over the past couple of years, we instituted restrictions on our behavior [due to the pandemic] — masking, social distancing, school closures,” he said.
As a result, Schnieder said, “There was very little transmission of these easily transmissible respiratory viruses.”
“There’s not as much immunity in the community,” he added, and diseases were now spreading among children “now that they are unmasked and back at school.”
The spike in cases has New York parents concerned.
Mom of two Samantha Clifford, 36, said her younger son, 6, has Down syndrome and has been hospitalized with RSV each of the past three years.
“I am worried,” the Upper West Side nurse said. “We haven’t had it this year — fingers crossed.”
Added mom of three Lindsay Cline, 39, “It’s going to be a long six months of winter.”
“The kids never got sick at school when they were wearing masks — you don’t get sick in a bubble — but now the masks are off, sickness is spreading,” she said.
“My little [3-year-old] guy was born during COVID so he doesn’t have as many antibodies as he would normally. He’s been getting sick more often than normal.”
Mom Rani Simpson, 39, suspects she, her husband and their two daughters all came down with RSV — though they weren’t tested for it.
“My youngest daughter had a fever for five days and a horrible cough,” she said. “I was anxious that it was pneumonia because the cough was so bad.”
“I think my husband now has RSV,” she added. “He’s home in bed sick. He has been sick since Monday.”
RSV is harshest on infants, as well as children with pre-existing conditions like asthma. Schneider said many of his RSV patients require some form of mechanical ventilation to keep breathing.
The disease affects the elderly, too, with the CDC estimating 6,000 to 10,000 adult deaths from RSV each year.
Generally, once in the ICU, Schneider said, children improve quickly, getting off ventilation within days — though severe or complicated cases can sometimes require a week or more of intensive care.
The biggest danger at the moment, Schneider said, is keeping the ICU beds open — especially with expected winter upticks in flu and COVID infections still on the horizon.
“For those children and adults eligible for influenza and COVID vaccinations, they should get them,” he said. “Let’s try to minimize the burden of influenza and COVID this winter.”