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Respiratory illnesses strike children, too: Trio of RSV, flu, COVID straining hospitals across Clark County

By , Columbian staff reporter
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Miranda Neumann holds her 14-month-old son, Collins, who was on a feeding tube while being treated for the flu at Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
Miranda Neumann holds her 14-month-old son, Collins, who was on a feeding tube while being treated for the flu at Doernbecher Children's Hospital. (Photo contributed by Miranda Neumann) Photo Gallery

As Clark County continues to battle the surge of respiratory-related illnesses, some parents are having to bring their little ones to the hospital for help.

Hospitals continue to see an influx of respiratory illnesses. The Vancouver Clinic reported a 15 percent COVID-19 positivity rate, a 46 percent flu positivity rate and a 35 percent RSV positivity rate during the week of Nov. 20 to Nov. 26, according to Vancouver Clinic data.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center’s emergency department was averaging around 13.5 percent of patients presenting with RSV, flu or COVID-19 as of Nov. 30.

“It’s as bad as they say it is,” said Olivia Curran, who brought her young son to the hospital for care.

Curran took Ezra, 6, to Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center on Nov. 28, two days after she started noticing his symptoms, including a bad cough, fever and loss of appetite.

Ezra was released after being treated at Legacy Salmon Creek, but he ended up at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland the next day after his blood oxygen level fell to 89 percent; normal levels are 95 percent or higher. Ezra has asthma, so the family has a pulse oximeter to measure his oxygen levels at home.

Ezra tested positive for respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV. For three days, his oxygen level was around 89 percent, dipping as low as 82 percent at one point, according to Curran. His lips were blue, and he lost weight because he was not eating.

But because hospitals are near capacity, Ezra was admitted for only 24 hours before he was sent home, where Curran monitored his symptoms and used their at-home nebulizer and inhaler every few hours, she said.

Curran said Ezra’s pediatrician told her that any other time, he would likely have stayed in the hospital, but the system is overwhelmed.

As of Dec. 1, 97.3 percent of hospital beds and 89.8 percent of intensive care beds across the county were occupied, according to Clark County Public Health data.

“There’s not really anything people can do unless you are sick enough to be admitted,” Curran said, adding that to be admitted, one must be in critical condition.

Though Ezra was the only child in Curran’s house who needed to go to the hospital, her 5-year-old, 3-year-old and 9-month-old all got RSV as well — leading to many sleepless nights for the Curran household.

“We’ve had RSV before, and it was not this bad,” Curran said.

Around that same time, on Nov. 30, Miranda Neumann took her 14-month-old to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital with a fever of 105 degrees, even while taking ibuprofen and Tylenol. Her son, Collins, spent six days in the hospital, much of that time on a feeding tube, because he refused to eat. He had tested positive for influenza A.

“I felt helpless,” Neumann said.

Neumann is a medical assistant at a pediatric clinic in Clark County she preferred to leave unnamed. At her clinic, around half of the kids coming in are testing positive for RSV or flu. Knowing the signs to look for, she monitored Collins for a few days before she recognized that he needed emergency care.

Neumann stressed the importance of calling an advice line or a pediatrician before taking a sick child to the hospital, because hospitals across the county are near capacity.

Collins did not have the latest flu vaccine — he had recently gotten shots during his wellness visit, and Neumann had planned to wait a few weeks before taking him in for his flu vaccine. Neumann is a huge proponent of the flu vaccine.

“Because I’m vaccinated, I didn’t get sick. … That saved me so that I was able to take care of my son,” Neumann said. “I cannot stress enough: Get vaccinated.”

Health officials echo this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of preventative care. This includes getting a flu shot and updated COVID-19 booster, washing hands with soap and water, avoiding touching your face and staying home from work when sick.

“Our best preventative option is to become vaccinated,” said Dr. Angela Collins, family medicine physician at Vancouver Clinic in Washougal. “It really is the cornerstone of preventative medicine.”

Though there is no vaccine for RSV, there is hope for one in the future, according to Dr. Alan Melnick, public health director for Clark County Public Health.

If you are sick, Collins recommends calling your pediatrician or an advice line. For patients who are otherwise healthy and are able to stick to home care, she recommends the following:

  • Hydrate. Some recommended liquids are water, tea, juice, soup and electrolytes.
  • Use acetaminophen and ibuprofen to bring a fever down.
  • Try using saline sprays and a humidifier.

If symptoms persist or worsen after five to seven days, Collins recommends seeking care. If you are unsure if you should go to a hospital, consult your doctor or an advice line.

“You never know how severe your symptoms are going to be,” said Marissa Armstrong, communications program coordinator for Clark County Public Health. “That just reinforces the reason to get vaccinated.”

To get vaccinated

To schedule a vaccine or booster, visit