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As we are all grappling with the summer spike in COVID-19 due to the Delta variant, there is also another virus that is widespread called the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (or RSV). RSV is an incredibly common respiratory virus that usually circulates between October and February. But with this year’s early surge kicking in right at the start of school, there are a few things parents should be aware of.
Initially, it is estimated to be two years of age almost all children will be infected with RSV– and it is possible to get infected several times. “Everyone has probably contracted RSV at least once in their life,” he said Dr. Michael Chang, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UTHealth Houston.
The vast majority of children who get RSV will have a mild case – they may develop a runny nose, cough, and even a high fever, but they will recover well. For adults, RSV usually only feels like a bad cold if there are any symptoms. However, more serious cases can and will occur.
Some children have to be hospitalized for RSV
Although the vast majority of children will be fine, some will develop a severe case of RSV that requires hospitalization. If the case is severe, there is a risk of either developing bronchiolitis, which causes the small airways in the lungs to become inflamed, or pneumonia.
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An average year becomes an estimated 58,000 children are hospitalized for RSV, the average length of stay is one to two days. Although deaths from RSV are rare, hospitalization for a severe RSV case is not required.
Severe cases of RSV usually occur in young infants
Severe cases of RSV usually occur in young infants, who are generally less than six months old, and in children with lung or heart problems. This includes children with congenital heart defects as well as children under the age of two who were born prematurely due to their more vulnerable lungs.
For children at high risk of complications from RSV, there is one Drug called palivizumab This can help prevent serious illness from the virus, although it cannot cure or treat children who already have severe RSV. Unfortunately, there is still no vaccine against RSV.
If your child has RSV and is having difficulty breathing, or you hear a whistling sound when exhaling, it is a sign they need to go to the emergency room or hospital. If babies are breathing quickly or taking longer to feed, it is a sign that they need medical attention.
We are currently seeing a summer surge in RSV
Given all of the COVID-19 precautions over the past year and a half, doctors didn’t see very many RSV cases over the winter. However, when the precautions were lifted and people got off, RSV cases spiked in an off-season summer surge that many doctors, including infectious disease experts like Chang, hadn’t anticipated.
Currently, doctors are seeing a rate of RSV cases that is consistent, if not higher, than what they typically see in winter. “It all happens in mid-August and July, which is totally unusual for RSV,” said Chang.
RSV hospital admissions coincide with COVID-19 hospital admissions
Unfortunately, this means that the children who develop severe RSV cases end up in hospital at a time when capacities are already exhausted due to COVID. There are many accidents in pediatric intensive care units in the summer, while there are many cases of flu and RSV in the winter.
“Usually the RSV will peak and maybe start to decline, then the flu will come,” said Chang. “We usually see that every winter.”
Right now they are seeing the usual summer accidents, an influx of RSV, as well as any additional COVID-19 patients. This means that hospitals that are full will have to move some of their patients to another location.
“We will always find a bed for you, but it could be in a different condition,” said Chang.
COVID-19 precautions work really well for RSV
The good news is that COVID-19 precautions are also incredibly effective in preventing the spread of RSV. “The interventions we are doing for COVID-19 – masks, physical distancing, hygiene – are the same ones you would do for RSV,” Chang said.
So mask yourself and keep washing your hands as this will not only prevent the spread of COVID-19 but also RSV.