A hospital neonatal unit. / sur / ATLAS

Pediatric intensive care units in Spain under severe pressure from wave of respiratory illnesses

Doctors say hospital accident and emergency departments are seeing 40% more cases than usual and the viruses have begun much earlier this year

ÁLVARO SOTO MADRID.

Pediatric intensive care units all over Spain are under serious pressure due to a wave of bronchiolitis cases in children. In recent weeks hospital accident and emergency units have treated 40% more cases of respiratory illnesses than before the pandemic, mainly due to respiratory syncytial virus, said the Spanish Pediatric Emergencies Society, which has raised the alarm due to fears that the ICUs will not be able to cope with the number of young patients.

The preventive measures against Covid-19 and now the end of restrictions has caused changes to the timing of these viruses. Before the pandemic the first cases usually occurred in late October but this year they began in July and doctors say the peak has not yet been reached.

“Our main concern is that at present we do not know how high the peak will be nor whether the cases will be more serious than in other years, or how long this epidemic will coincide with other viruses such as flu and Covid,” said Paula Vázquez, the president of the Society.

Babies and children under four most affected

The Sentinel Surveillance system for acute respiratory infection in primary care and hospitals, which monitors flu, Covid-19 and other viruses, shows a clear increase in contagion, principally in babies and children up to four years old in the week beginning 10 November.

The rise in the number of cases is causing a significant delay in treatment in pediatric intensive care units all over Spain, partly due to staff shortages and also a lack of space in observation units and the number of hospital and critical care beds, the Society said, and this is affecting the quality of care for patients.

Among other measures, pediatricians are calling for spaces to be created where children can be looked after while waiting for a bed in a ward or ICU; pre-admission rooms, where they can wait under suitable conditions; rapid detection tests for respiratory viruses, flu and lung ultrasound to be available at the bedside; a real-time observatory of respiratory viruses to be created and more health care professionals employed at all levels.