Orange County, California declares health emergency due to viral infection

Registered nurse Brian Hovelina attaches a “COVID Patient” sticker to the body bag of a patient who died of the coronavirus at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Tuesday, December 14, 2021. [AP Photo/Jae C. Hong]

Orange County health officials declared a health emergency on November 1 due to the rapid spread of viral infections, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which led to pediatric patients being hospitalized. It follows a similar announcement by the San Diego Public Health Agency the previous week. Orange County is the sixth most populous county in America, with a population of over 3.1 million.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is a seasonal virus that nearly all children get infected by when they are 2 years old. Most cases of respiratory syncytial virus cause mild, cold-like symptoms, but they may also cause severe illness such as bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways of the lung) or pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs). The CDC estimates that each year, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) leads to the admissions of 58,000-80,000 children under five years of age and 100-300 deaths.

Infants are especially susceptible to RSV infection. The respiratory virus causes the body to produce excess mucus that can block the small airways of children, who may need extra help breathing. RSV poses the greatest risk to premature babies, babies less than six months of age, babies under two years of age with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease (present at birth), immunocompromised babies, and babies with neuromuscular disorders .

At Children’s Hospital of Orange County, (CHOC) a record number of pediatric admissions were already seen before the emergency was declared. According to Emergency Medical Director Dr. Theodore Hemming, CHOC is as full as ever. He thinks it’s similar to what’s happening in other children’s hospitals across the country.

A similar case is unfolding nearby at Providence St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange and its sister Providence Hospital in Mission Viejo at the end of October. According to Dr. Brian Lee, medical director of the Emergency Care Center at Providence Saint Joseph’s Hospital, their emergency department has a capacity of 80 to 90 percent.

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