What Rising Cases of RSV Means For Your Family

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that causes infections in the lungs and usually effects small children and infants. Over the last three to four weeks, pediatricians in five different states have stated that their hospital bed capacity has been strained due to a massive influx of RSV cases. In fact, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV results in around 58,000 annual hospitalizations and 100 to 300 deaths among children under 5. The virus began circulating over this past summer but has seen a huge increase in cases in various states around the U.S. over the past month. The surge has come as a surprise to doctors around the country since the virus is typically most active during the winter months. For many kids, RSV simply mimics the classic signs and symptoms of a common cold, but for children with lung diseases/defects and infants, RSV can cause severe lung infection and even death in some cases. With the winter coming up soon, cases may continue to see a steady increase.

So what does a case of RSV look like? Well unfortunately, initially it can be very difficult to identify the signs of an RSV infection due to the fact that the symptoms mimic that of the common cold. However, a case becomes severe when an infected child begins feeling lethargic or fatigued, breathing hard/rapidly, or experiencing slow labored breathing inexplicably. Another telltale sign that a child may be infected with RSV is struggling to eat normal foods or drink liquids due the restricted air flow they may be experiencing. Often times, children suffering from RSV, may begin flaring their nostrils, develop blue or purple skin, start grunting, or begin head bobbing while parents may observe caving in around their collarbone or rib cage as additional physical symptoms. These are the signs parents should be on the lookout for when trying to monitor their children’s symptoms and determine if the illness is simply a common cold or something more..

You may not have heard of RSV prior to this and you may find yourself asking, why the sudden uptick in cases? Doctors say RSV is spreading earlier this year and resulting in more severe cases due to many children not being exposed to the respiratory viruses they would have otherwise encountered had it not been for masking protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Charlotte Boney, Pediatrician-in-chief at Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts stated, “All those infection control measures protected us from all these viruses. Now everyone has relaxed those measures and these viruses are back with a vengeance”. Many doctors across the country have stated that many of the young kids who are contracting RSV, typically get it from an older sibling who in turn was infected at school or day care. Meaning that toddlers and infants with older siblings who attend daycare or school are the most at risk for contracting the virus.

As serious as an RSV infection can be for your child, there are things you can do to lower your child’s chances of contracting the virus. The CDC recommends hand washing, avoiding contact with sick classmates, avoiding touching of the face, wearing a face mask around those who may be sick, and limiting the time they spend in childcare centers or other contagious settings during periods of high RSV activity, as effective strategies in preventing infection. Pfizer is currently developing and testing a vaccine for RSV which will significantly decrease infection rates with an estimated 86% efficacy rate based on data from Pfizer’s late-stage trial of older adults. Pharmaceutical company GSK is also reportedly developing a vaccine for RSV that has been found to be around 94% effective against severe RSV among adults ages 60 and up. However, until a RSV vaccine is approved by the FDA, the CDC’s stated prevention strategies remain the best method for keeping your children RSV-free.

Work Cited:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, October 31). Preventing RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/prevention.html

Bendix, A. (n.d.). Surge in RSV, a virus that can severely sicken infants, is filling hospital beds. NBCNews.com. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/surge-rsv-virus-fills-hospitals-can-severely-sicken-babies-rcna52082

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, January 9). Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/respiratory-syncytial-virus/symptoms-causes/syc-20353098

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