Respiratory Disease Outbreak in Chile

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile has been hit by its most severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) outbreak in years, killing four infants and putting strain on pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.

Yessenia Sanchez, the mother of one of the infants who died, said she waited from 8 am until 10 pm for an ambulance to transfer her baby to an ICU. In that time her baby had two cardiac arrests, said Sanchez, who is from Quilpe in the Valparaiso metropolitan area.

A report from Chile’s Health Ministry on Friday showed that the average pediatric ICU bed capacity in the country has reached 94%.

“Even though (RSV) is expected, we are facing one of the biggest outbreaks in years,” Health Minister Ximena Aguilera said, adding that children under the age of 1 are the most at-risk.

The severity of this outbreak was linked to the low circulation of the virus during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“There’s a different immunological situation now, a greater vulnerability, and that leads us to have an unusually high circulation of this virus,” Aguilera said.

The government has been criticized for what some say was a slow deployment of a public health campaign before the start of winter in the southern hemisphere.

Respiratory diseases tend to skyrocket in Chile during winter. The situation is also usually exacerbated in Santiago due to the intense air pollution in the city, located in a basin surrounded by hills.

(Reporting by Jorge Vega in Santiago and Rodrigo Garrido in Valparaiso; Written by Natalia Ramos and Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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