The New Mexico Department of Health issued a Dec. 1 public health emergency order declaring Respiratory Syncytial Virus as a condition of public health significance.
The purpose of the order is to notify the public of the increase in RSV cases and provide advice on precautions that should be taken to decrease the spread of RSV. The order requires all New Mexico hospitals to participate in a “hub and spoke” model of resource management to ensure patients are transferred to appropriate levels of care.
A Dec. 1 NMDOH press release says, “This public emergency order is necessary now as hospitals and emergency rooms are operating above their licensed capacity due to a surge in respiratory viruses and are now experiencing an unsustainable strain on healthcare providers.”
Due to increasing cases of RSV, influenza and COVID-19, New Mexico hospitals are “nearing a level of capacity strain that would necessitate activating crisis standards of care.”
What is RSV?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. The virus can be especially serious for infants and older adults and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under the age of 1 in the United States.
Symptoms are usually noticeable after four to six days after infection and include:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
Symptoms tend to appear in stages and in young infants may only include irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties. Most infections go away on their own in a week or two and do not usually require hospitalization. There is no specific treatment for RSV, but researchers are working on developing vaccines and antivirals.
In the most severe cases, those with respiratory illness caused by RSV may require oxygen, IV fluids or intubation. People with chronic health problems such as asthma or congestive heart failure may experience more severe symptoms from RSV infection.
Transmission of RSV occurs through coughs and sneezes and when virus droplets land in the eyes, nose or mouth. It can also spread through direct contact by kissing a child infected with RSV or touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
Those infected with RSV can take over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage symptoms. Infected individuals are also urged to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and to talk to a health care provider.
How many cases are there?
Data from the CDC shows there was a rapid increase in RSV cases in New Mexico beginning in October and peaking in mid-November. Using a five-week average, PCR detections of RSV went from 131.4 on Oct. 15 to 620.6 on Nov. 11. Detection of the virus has since declined, but hospitals are still overwhelmed from the high number of cases as well as an increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and influenza.
A rise in influenza and COVID-19 cases across New Mexico
A CDC map shows influenza cases in New Mexico were very high for the week ending Nov. 26. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, “New Mexico influenza-like illness (ILI) activity is currently 14.3% of patient visits statewide, and is above the NM ILI baseline of 3.9% in all five health regions.
For the week ending Nov. 26, the Metro region of the state, which includes Albuquerque, ILI cases accounted for 11.8% of patient visits. Hospitalization from influenza increased from near zero in early October to more than 25 in late November among New Mexicans age 4 and under. The number of positive influenza test results for the week ending Nov. 26 was close to 1,500 statewide.
The number of COVID cases is also increasing, causing even more of a strain on state health care workers. Although nowhere near the 7,433 positive COVID cases seen on Jan. 18, 2022, the number of cases rose from 118 on Oct. 2 to 1,054 on Nov. 28, according to NMDOH data. For the week of Nov. 15-28 there was a 15.8% COVID positivity rate in Bernalillo County, or 31.2 cases per 100,000 people.
Hospitals in Albuquerque already over capacity
According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of Dec. 1 the Lovelace Women’s Hospital at 4701 Montgomery Blvd. NE had -300% of inpatient ICU beds available. The hospital has a total of eight inpatient ICU beds, with 32 of those beds being occupied. The hospital has a total of 173 inpatient beds, with 106 of those being occupied, leaving 38.73% of the inpatient beds available.
Kindred Hospital Albuquerque at 700 High St. NE had all six of its inpatient ICU beds occupied and 45 of 48 inpatient beds occupied. University of New Mexico Hospital had 117 of 128 inpatient ICU beds occupied and Lovelace Medical Center, 601 Dr. Martin Luther King JR. Ave. NE, had 36 of its 60 inpatient ICU beds occupied. Statewide, HHS reports 3,001 of the 3,567 inpatient beds at 45 hospitals were occupied as of Dec. 7. Forty-four hospitals report a total of 243 inpatient beds as being in use for COVID-19 across the state.
How to prevent the spread of respiratory illness
Jason Mitchell, chief medical and clinical transformation officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said it is important to protect New Mexico children and prevent the spread of respiratory illness.
“As health care providers in New Mexico, we will continue to work closely to support children across the state who need care at this challenging time,” Mitchell said in the Dec. 1 NMDOH release. “We encourage families to prevent the spread of RSV and other respiratory illnesses and to seek care if it is needed.”
State health experts encourage New Mexicans to:
- Stay up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Stay home if you or your child is sick.
- Wash hands thoroughly and frequently.
- Keep common, high-touch surface areas clean and regularly disinfected.
- If you have a child needing medical evaluation, call your health care provider or visit an urgent care center. At this time, hospital emergency departments are strained. Only visit the hospital if your child shows signs of severe illness, such as significant trouble breathing.