(The Center Square) – Children have recorded the highest rate of respiratory illness in Maryland at a time when hospital capacity remains limited, the head of the Maryland Hospital Association said.

Hospitalizations for Respiratory Syncytial Virus reached a record high of 257 in late October, according to the RSV Dashboard provided by the Department of Health’s Center for Infectious Disease Surveillance and Outbreak Response. However, that number fell to 181 by Nov. 14, well below the previous year’s highs.

“The data shows specifically that RSV hospitalizations in Maryland were increasing earlier and more rapidly than in previous years,” Gene Ransom, CEO of the Maryland State Medical Society, told The Center Square.

He said the age 0-2 group comprised 57% of those hospitalized, meaning RSV is affecting infants at a much higher rate.

RSV typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms, the Center for Infectious Disease Surveillance and Outbreak Response reported on the RSV Dashboard website. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can cause serious illness in infants and older adults.

“While there is no vaccine for RSV, we recommend that parents get their children vaccinated for several other respiratory illnesses similar to RSV, such as influenza and COVID-19,” Maryland Hospital Association president and CEO Bob Atlas said in a statement to The Center Square. “We also advise Marylanders to follow CDC-recommended measures like frequent handwashing, maintaining social distance, wearing a face mask that covers both your nose and mouth, and staying home when sick.”

Ransom said that Maryland learned through its COVID-19 experiences how to adjust its public health response. The creation of COVID-19 dashboards was helpful because he said that, suddenly, health officials and the public could see where spikes of COVID were happening with certain groups or populations in specific geographic areas. That enabled them to better manage and respond to the crisis.

It’s clear from the data that the RSV problem is being managed well, Ransom said.

“But it’s putting pressure on our emergency rooms and hospitals,” he said. “So, it’s important that we’re paying attention to it.”

He said the RSV dashboard is a sign that the state has learned from what happened with the coronavirus public health emergency.

“As we move forward and as we have other public health issues, I think it’s really important that we use the technology and the other tools to help health practitioners, hospitals, physicians, make the decisions and adjust as crises develop,” he said.

Atlas urged Marylanders to use health care resources thoughtfully.

“If you or your child is sick, consider your primary health care provider, urgent care, or telehealth for nonemergency care,” he said. “Always go to the emergency department for emergencies or life-threatening illnesses and injuries and call 911 if you need immediate medical attention.”

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