RSV deaths in children are not reportable = Colorado

This week, the state epidemiologist said the positivity rate for RSV is approaching 25% with no sign of slowing down.

DENVER — Coloradans may never know the full extent of RSV cases because the state is not required to report some data. RSV-related pediatric deaths are not a mandatory nationally reportable disease, but influenza-related pediatric deaths are.

This week, the state epidemiologist said the positivity rate for RSV is approaching 25% with no sign of slowing down. dr Kevin Carney, associate medical director at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said he believes the state may have peaked in terms of RSV counts.

“Is there any reason not to report it,” asked Conner O’Brien, father of a 1-year-old. O’Brien said his son Fynn was recently hospitalized with RSV for 12 days.

He believes reporting the number of deaths could make a difference in how serious parents are about the disease.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t understand the severity unless they’ve experienced it themselves or someone else close to them got it,” he said.

9NEWS contacted CDPHE with some questions regarding the underreporting of RSV-related pediatric deaths. Brian Spencer, a CDPHE spokesman, responded with some answers.

Why are RSV-related pediatric deaths not reportable in Colorado?

Spencer: RSV is not a mandatory nationally reportable disease, and states may approach disease reporting requirements in different ways. The list of Colorado reportable diseases is reviewed at Board of Health meetings to determine if and when new diseases should be added.

In Colorado, RSV-associated hospitalizations in the five-county Denver metropolitan area (Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties) are reportable as part of the CDC’s emerging infection program. Colorado is one of ten sites in the Emerging Infections Program with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program collects information about specific infections in order to learn more about clinical pictures and risk factors. We use data from this program to make health recommendations and better understand infectious diseases in Colorado and the rest of the country.

Are child flu-related deaths reportable?

If so, why are they reportable and NOT RSV-related pediatric deaths? What is the difference?

Spencer: Childhood influenza deaths are a nationally reportable disease, but pediatric RSV deaths are not.

Childhood influenza deaths were made nationally reportable in 2004 in response to recently expanded recommendations for childhood influenza vaccination. The aim was to show prevention options. Although we are not aware of any plans to make RSV deaths in children nationally reportable if an RSV vaccine is approved, it is a possibility.

Public health officials are responding to both viruses, but response tactics differ because while the flu is vaccine-preventable, RSV does not have a vaccine.

For the flu, one strategy is to follow the data, promote practices to reduce transmission, and deploy vaccines in higher-risk areas and across the state.

At RSV, one strategy is to educate the public about preventative measures such as staying home when sick or washing hands regularly.

With both viruses currently circulating, we are in constant communication with hospitals to help coordinate to protect hospital capacity.

Are there concerns that Coloradans might not take the virus seriously if they don’t report the deaths?

Spencer: We are working to slow the transmission of RSV and we are grateful that Coloradans takes this virus seriously.

We have taken several measures to inform the public and slow the spread, including:

  • We have sent out two press releases in the last few weeks and held a press conference last week to share important information with Coloradans about the seriousness of these respiratory diseases and the current burden some hospitals are putting them under. Our communications to external partners include sharing guidance on the prevention and control of non-COVID-19 respiratory disease in schools and childcare settings, including updated recommendations for improved infection control in childcare settings.
  • Governor Polis signed an executive order amending and expanding the current COVID-19 disaster declaration to include RSV, influenza and other respiratory illnesses in support of this response. The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies and the Colorado Division of Insurance have issued emergency regulations to help hospitals deal with capacity issues resulting from increased hospitalizations due to respiratory illnesses.
  • The current public health response to all respiratory viruses is interconnected. We are using all of our limited resources to protect hospital capacities and make decisions based on the data we have, which will always have limitations but will drive our strategies.

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