RSV increasing among local kids outside of typical season

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Basic steps can help prevent the common respiratory illness.

Common childhood RSV infections typically start to increase in the cold weather. But for weeks this summer, cases have been unseasonably high.

At Dayton Children’s Hospital, infectious disease division chief Dr. J. Michael Klatte said doctors don’t know for certain why this is happening, but suspect the pandemic somehow disrupted RSV’s typical seasonal circulation pattern.

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“Last winter and spring, we saw essentially no cases of RSV at Dayton Children’s, which was quite an anomaly,” Klatte said.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is one of the many different viruses which can cause infections in the nose, throat, and lungs. Infections typically spread late fall through early spring.

The unusual summer spread is happening not just in the region. Many parts of the country have seen rising rates over the last several months, and the CDC issued a health advisory. This advisory includes that health care personnel, child care providers, and staff of long-term care facilities shouldn’t go to work when sick, even if they test negative for the virus that causes COVID-19.

Almost all kids get an RSV infection by the time they are 2-years-old, according to the CDC, and most of the time RSV will cause a mild, cold-like illness. RSV infections generally begin with symptoms like those of the common cold like a runny or stuffy nose, cough, low appetite and sometimes a fever.

Basic hygiene practices can help with prevention. This includes good hand washing, avoiding close contact with sick people, cleaning frequently touched services, and covering coughs and sneezes.

“Particularly for parents who have young infants at home, they should be aware that this virus is actively circulating in our community, and be taking all the proper preventative measures to prevent their infants and young children from acquiring this infection,” Klatte said.

There are no specific medications available to kill the virus or shorten the length of symptoms, and so treatments should be aimed at keeping a child comfortable. Such treatments might include using nasal saline with gentle bulb suctioning or a cool-mist humidifier to break up mucous and decrease nasal congestion.

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In some cases, RSV can also cause severe illness, like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Each year in the United States, RSV leads to on average approximately 58,000 hospitalizations and 100 to 500 deaths among children younger than 5 years old, and 177,000 hospitalizations with 14,000 deaths among adults aged 65 years or older, according to the CDC.

“AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) estimates that approximately 1% or so of all infants younger than one year old will require hospitalization, which sounds like a pretty low number and it is for the most part. But nearly all children by the age of two years old will have had some type of exposure to RSV,” Klatte said.

He said some infants who are high risk with underlying medical conditions can be given a series of shots to help prevent an RSV infection, and parents can talk with their primary care provider about if their child qualifies. As of Aug. 1, Dayton Children’s set up their clinic to provide these injections.


Preventing RSV

There are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of RSV. Specifically, if you have cold-like symptoms you should

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices

Ideally, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems. If this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps.

Source: CDC