Kids are flocking to NJ hospitals. An influx of respiratory disease cases is filling pediatric beds.

Hospitals in New Jersey are filling up with children coughing and struggling to breathe.

But it is not COVID-19. Or even influenza.

An outbreak of the viral respiratory infection is sending children to emergency rooms across the state. the biggest culprits enterovirus and rhinovirus as well in some cases rsv (respiratory syncytial virus), all of which usually cause cold-like symptoms.

But in severe cases, they can cause shortness of breath.

“Some ICUs are at capacity,” said Dr. Uzma Hassan, division director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, part of RWJBarnabas Health.

Another school year just started, helping the virus spread, and already cases of the respiratory illness are filling pediatric hospital beds. Experts say the rise in infections has also been helped by easing of masking and other measures against COVID-19.

RWJ Doctors at Barnabas Health see rapid growth in pediatrics enterovirus and cases of rhinovirus. Usually, these viruses only mild symptoms, But they can sometimes be serious, especially for people with asthma and certain underlying conditions.

“We’re starting to see a lot of numbers in our ERs and our floors and our pediatric ICUs (with these kids) within the last few weeks,” Hassan said on Wednesday.

She said it appears to be a national trend. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning earlier this month of enterovirus D68, a rare but serious respiratory infection in children that can cause and develop shortness of breath. acute flaccid myelitisA neurological condition that can result in muscle weakness and even paralysis.

The state health department last week issued a warning to pediatricians and hospitals of high enterovirus and rhinovirus activity in recent weeks. It told doctors to be on the lookout for AFM, which often precedes enterovirus D68 disease.

“The good news is that the vast majority will have mild illness,” Hassan said. “People who are hospitalized recover very quickly.”

A spokesman said Cooper University Hospital in Camden also reported an increase in pediatric respiratory cases.

According to Hassan, enteroviruses spread every two years.

“And this year, we’re seeing a significant jump,” she said.

Hassan noted that 2020 was an outlier with particularly low respiratory infection numbers due to pandemic preventive measures – measures that are now largely gone.

“The state is monitoring and monitoring daily hospitalizations and pediatric intensive care units throughout the state,” a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement Wednesday. “The department is also planning a call with hospitals to assess pediatric capacity.”

Despite the wave of cases, much was learned from the pandemic, according to Hassan.

“We are planning to tackle these booms, coming up with flow-through plans to accommodate a large number of children,” she said.

While many respiratory viruses are circulating, enteroviruses appear to be the main driver of new cases.

“What kind of major virus is enterovirus right now,” Hassan said. “We’re starting to see a slight uptick in RSV. Flu — we haven’t seen huge numbers.”

But that could change in the coming weeks and months. He noted that Australia’s flu season – A possible precursor to the US season – Showed an unusually high number of cases.

“So we anticipate that the flu numbers are going to be higher this year,” she said.

Hospitals want to send a message to parents – and encourage proper hygiene measures and vaccinations – as Hassan stressed that some children are at greater risk.

“There are some high-risk populations that we know are going to be at risk for serious disease,” she said, “and those are children who have asthma, children who have chronic lung disease. Neurologically vulnerable children. Often there is severe disease. Children who have congenital heart disease can develop severe disease – so they are already on our radar.”

At Cooperman, she said some children are entering the emergency room struggling to breathe.

“Children who are coming into the ER setting, yes, have symptoms of difficulty breathing, which is why they get treated with breathing therapy,” Hassan said. “Sometimes they are put on steroids when they have asthma, and they usually require hospitalization and sometimes admission to the ICU if they are in severe distress.”

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Spencer Kent can be reached here skent@njadvancemedia.com,

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