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Summer Surge In Child Respiratory Illnesses A Worrying Sign For The Months Ahead

Courtesy OSF HealthCare

A doctor at the OSF HealthCare Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria says she's concerned about how the upcoming fall and winter might play out with the unusual recent surge in pediatric respiratory illnesses.

Dr. Michele Beekman is a pediatric hospitalist at the Children's Hospital of Illinois, and an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria. She said there are some troubling health trends emerging among kids as they head back to school.

"Since we've unmasked and increased our social interactions, we're actually seeing what have been traditionally thought of as fall and winter viruses in the summer," Beekman said.

Beekman said the new crop of respiratory illnesses is compounding existing COVID-19 concerns, as the more contagious Delta variant spreads.

"In the hospital setting, what we've seen is a substantial increase in RSV, paraflu, respiratory distress within young infants and toddlers," Beekman said. "Because it's really getting its heyday."

As more people ease up on the precautions health officials have promoted for the last year and a half, Beekman said she fears for what's to come in the months ahead.

"What we didn't see last year when we were all masked, I think we will see this year, with significantly overflowing children's hospitals, which are generally already stretched to capacity in the fall and winter — in addition to COVID infections," she said.

Beekman said masking and good hand hygiene remain the best protective measures for kids too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19. They also shield against other respiratory viruses, she said.

"I think we're preparing, but it's hard to know what's going to happen," Beekman said. "And we certainly have a backup in order to be able to appropriately care for all patients, but being a regional transferal center for pediatrics and for adult patients, you want to be able to care for children and adults that can't be cared for in our regional centers, and have the capacity to do so."

She said longer waits for care could happen this winter. That's why she said the goal now is to keep people healthy and out of the hospital in the first place, so enough hospital beds are are available for urgent medical needs.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.