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OC declares health emergency due to viral infections causing rise in pediatric hospitalizations

Orange County has declared a health emergency over what officials call rapidly spreading viral infections that are leading to a record number of pediatric hospitalizations.

Irene Cruz, ABC 7, Nov 1, 2022

The OC Health Care Agency on Monday said daily emergency room visits are also on the rise in the county. There is no vaccine against RSV, a common respiratory virus that creates cold-like symptoms, but the county wants people to be up to date on COVID-19 and flu shots.

"Following preventive measures, including remaining up to date with other vaccinations such as flu and COVID-19, can help reduce the severity of disease and can help reduce the burden on hospitals this fall and winter," Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, County Health Officer and HCA's Chief Medical Officer, said in a statement. "Our best shot at protecting ourselves and our children from respiratory illnesses continues to be the same things we practiced throughout the pandemic including the use of masks when indoors around others and staying home when you are sick."

Additionally, a Proclamation of Local Emergency was declared, which allows Orange County to access state and federal resources to combat the spread.

Health officials are warning parents to look out for symptoms such as rapid breathing, head-bopping, lips turning blue or kids tugging at their rib cage. They also say parents and caregivers should keep young children with respiratory illnesses out of childcare, even if they have tested negative for COVID.

Dr. Melaine Patterson, the Chief Nursing Officer for Children's Health Orange County, said both CHOC at Orange and CHOC at Mission are seeing unprecedented volumes in their emergency departments. She said for the past two and a half weeks, they're seeing about 400 kids every single day.

"And in fact, last year on this day, Nov. 1, we had 188 patients in our hospital. Today, right now, we have 285, so that is a gigantic surge for us," she said. CHOC said 11 of those patients are in ICU battling RSV.

"We want to make sure we have the ability in Orange County to take care of any sick child who falls ill from any respiratory illness," said Chinsio-Kwong. "We want to make sure that other hospitals prepare to operate in surge capacity in the event that it's needed."

One local doctor told Eyewitness News younger children are more at risk for the respiratory illness.

"Their lungs aren't as developed as our older children's lungs are and that's why we worry about these viruses and this inflammation affecting their lungs moreso. And that's why they have the symptoms such as wheezing and breathing fast and respiratory stress," said Dr. Rishma Chand with Dignity Health and Northridge Hospital.

New research shows vaccinating pregnant women helped protect their newborns from RSV, raising hopes that vaccines against the virus may finally be getting close after decades of failure.

Pfizer announced Tuesday that a large international study found vaccinating moms-to-be was nearly 82% effective at preventing severe cases of RSV in their babies' most vulnerable first 90 days of life. At age 6 months, the vaccine still was proving 69% effective against serious illness - and there were no signs of safety problems in mothers or babies.

The vaccine quest isn't just to protect infants. RSV is dangerous for older adults, too, and both Pfizer and rival GSK recently announced that their competing shots also proved protective for seniors.

None of the findings will help this year when an early RSV surge already is crowding children's hospitals. But they raise the prospect that one or more vaccines might become available before next fall's RSV season.

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