Reports of increasing respiratory infections in children and overburdened clinics are piling up nationwide. How is the situation in Hesse? And what do paediatricians advise worried parents?

Frankfurt/Bad Homburg (dpa/lhe) – Cases like this are startling: A small child from the Frankfurt area is brought by the parents to the pediatric on-call service with a severe respiratory infection. To be on the safe side, it should go to a hospital – but nothing is free in Frankfurt. The parents are sent to Darmstadt – but by the time they get there, the bed is occupied by an emergency. They will be referred to Worms where the child can stay.

Such an odyssey is rare, but also not the absolute exception, as reported by the Bad Homburg pediatrician Ralf Moebus, the state chairman of the professional association of paediatricians in Hesse: “It happens quite often.” The child, the pediatrician emphasizes, was not very seriously ill. If it had been in a critical condition, the parents would probably have been spared the odyssey. Nevertheless, many parents are currently worried.

Last week, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported a sharp increase in infections with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) nationwide. Children up to the age of four in particular are increasingly being treated in hospitals for this reason. The RKI does not have figures for individual federal states.

According to pediatricians, the bottlenecks are not due to a higher number of people affected, but to less capacity in practices and hospitals. “The practices and the clinics are at the limit,” said Moebus. “We’re walking on the floor in terms of personnel.” The professional association cannot confirm that there are many more cases of children with RSV than in previous years, at least for Hesse. “We have no other infection situation than usual, but we can provide less care,” said Moebus.

The medical director of Hesse’s largest hospital confirms this finding. “The situation in the pediatric wards is currently tense,” said Prof. J├╝rgen Graf of the dpa. “This applies both to us here at the University Hospital in Frankfurt and to many other hospitals in the region with which we are in contact.” The cause is a high number of infections, such as RSV or influenza, and a tense staff situation at the same time. “Numerous beds in different wards cannot be operated at the moment. This can lead to restrictions in supply.”

At the Clementine Children’s Hospital in Frankfurt, 16 children with bronchiolitis caused by RS viruses are currently being treated as inpatients. According to the clinic, there are also many outpatient cases. “We have been at the limit of our treatment capacities for around two weeks,” said a spokesman for the clinic. The clinics in the Rhine-Main area try to help each other: In the event of acute bottlenecks, the Clementine Children’s Hospital takes in patients from other facilities or transfers children to other clinics.

In the outpatient sector, the supply situation in rural areas is particularly bad, said Moebus. In regions like the Schwalm-Eder district there are numerous free pediatrician seats. There are also fewer staff in rural clinics – partly because it is often less attractive for pediatricians to work there. Unfortunately, many factors are currently coming together, said Moebus: the influenza wave started earlier, and the RS viruses were added. “Fortunately, Corona is currently playing a comparatively minor role.”

The RS virus usually triggers a harmless respiratory infection. According to the RKI, 50 to 70 percent of all children are usually infected with RSV within the first year of life and almost 100 percent by the end of the second year of life. In young children who belong to a risk group, however, an infection can be life-threatening. They sometimes have to get oxygen and are therefore dependent on a place in the hospital. Risk groups include premature babies, children with heart defects or asthma.

In the worst case, the children need a place in an intensive care unit. The register of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) lists ten locations for Hesse. The situation there seems to be less tense than in other federal states: On Thursday, the Divi register for Hesse showed no major bottlenecks: In all categories, the traffic light was last green or yellow (“available”, “limited availability”). In Bavaria, almost half of the dots are red.

Pediatrician Moebus advises concerned parents to keep an eye on their children’s vaccinations. You should get vaccinated against flu, pneumococci, corona and other pathogens. There is no vaccine against the RS virus, but patients at risk can receive antibodies as a preventive measure. Due to the high price, this preventive therapy is only suitable for a small group.