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Unseasonable rise in pediatric respiratory cases forces visitor restriction at Riley Children's Hospital

Doctors at the hospital say they are currently treating 83 patients with respiratory isolation orders.

INDIANAPOLIS — Starting Tuesday night, Riley Hospital for Children will start restricting visitors after a rise in pediatric respiratory cases.

The viruses are quickly filling emergency rooms and intensive care units across central Indiana.  

“It’s very busy,” said Dr. Samina Bhumbra, medical director of infection prevention at Riley Hospital for Children. “Our ERs, our hospital floors and our PICU are busy.” 

The respiratory cases include everything from RSV to rhinovirus/enterovirus. Usually, the symptoms start like the flu or a cold, but can worsen into a fever, aches or even pneumonia.  

Doctors say it’s not just the viruses they are concerned about, but also the rarity of the number of cases this early in the season. 

“Typically, there are a few viruses when kids head back to school in August. There is a little peak there, but nothing like this. This is typical mid-winter, full respiratory virus kind of thing coming much earlier,” said Dr. Christopher Belcher, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. 

RELATED: RSV cases in young kids on the rise in Indiana

So why the unseasonable jump? Doctors say there are many factors, but COVID-19 is a big one.   

“A lot of these kids were in lockdown for a couple of years and a lot of masks were worn. They haven’t experienced these viruses before,” Belcher said.  

On Tuesday, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital didn’t have an exact number of patients they could provide, but said there is a large increase. At Riley Hospital, doctors say they are currently treating 83 patients with respiratory isolation orders.

A closer look at the numbers shows that in the last two weeks, 76 kids were diagnosed with RSV - a 300% increase compared to this time last year. 

There have also been 83 cases of rhinovirus/enterovirus since mid-September, a 38% increase compared to this time last year. 

“Currently, in the last couple of weeks, we have seen an uptick in virus respiratory viruses,” Bhumbra said.  

The spike is pushing the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit to capacity as staff works to add more beds.   

“Right now, it is kind of a two-prong approach where we have to address the immediate needs and then try to think of more sustainable solutions to help keep our patients safe,” Bhumbra said. 

RELATED: The flu is back, and could be worse than usual this year

As doctors fight the infections inside the hospital, they are also asking families to take precautions like washing hands frequently, staying away from people if they are sick and covering their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. 

With winter looming, doctors are also seeing the start of flu and COVID cases again. They remind families to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Right now, anyone six months or older qualifies. 

Riley’s visitor restrictions go into effect Tuesday night at 9 p.m.:

  • No one under the age of 18 will be allowed to visit, including patient siblings.
  • Pediatric inpatients may have two parents/guardians and up to four designated visitors.
  • Maternity Unit patients can have up to six designated adults.
  • Only two visitors can visit at a time.
  • Anyone showing signs of illness should not visit until they are healthy. 

"By limiting exposure of viruses to our patients, we can all keep patients safe," the hospital said.

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