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Spain’s pediatric wards overflowing with bronchiolitis cases

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Nov 23, 2022 - 06:01 AM

OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Pediatric wards across Spain are filling up with children suffering from bronchiolitis, causing a growing number of hospitals to add beds, staff and consider canceling non-urgent surgeries.

“Pediatric intensive care units are full in almost all of Spain, and new patients keep showing up to emergency rooms. We don’t know when the trend will change,” David Andina, a pediatric emergency physician, told Spanish daily El Pais.

“Normally, the infection rate starts to go up now, and we reach the peak in mid-December. But we’re already seeing very high levels. Hospitals are suffering from the pressure, and we don’t see any signs that infections are slowing down,” said pediatrician and epidemiologist Quique Bassat.

Bronchiolitis is an infection of the smaller airways of the lungs and is usually caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Most people infected with RSV have mild symptoms. But a small percentage of those infected, mainly infants, will have to be treated in hospital.

A recent study published in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine estimates that 1 in 50 deaths in otherwise healthy children under the age of five is due to RSV.

The study also found that 1 out of 56 healthy children in high-income countries will be hospitalized with the virus.

On Monday, the Madrid government authorized hiring nearly 350 backup health professionals, including 27 pediatricians, in public hospitals to deal with the RSV outbreak.

But some healthcare workers say that isn’t enough.

“Today, in Madrid, 25 pediatric emergency departments are collapsed, 25 hospital floors are full and eight pediatric intensive care units don’t have a single bed free,” tweeted Andina on Tuesday.

To make matters worse, Madrid’s primary care pediatricians began an indefinite strike on Monday due to staffing shortages. Consequently, more parents resort to taking their children to emergency rooms.

But hospitals are also overwhelmed across the country. In Aragon, authorities decided to move one pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) to another hospital to fit more beds. The children’s hospital in Barcelona also has its ICU full and is considering opening new spaces to treat patients.

So far, hospitals haven’t had to cancel routine surgeries, but more dramatic contingency plans are being drawn up.

Spain is not the only country experiencing an earlier-than-expected spike in bronchiolitis. Experts say it is occurring in almost all of the northern hemisphere.

“One hypothesis is that the measures to protect people against COVID-19 dramatically reduced the circulation of viruses like RSV, meaning babies didn’t have contact with them. Now that they are exposed, they lack immunity, which could explain the spike in hospitalizations. But that theory hasn’t been proven yet,” explained Bassat.

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