Children’s hospitals in parts of the U.S. are seeing a surge in a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies.
RSV incidences dropped dramatically in the two-year period following the outbreak. Schools, daycares, and businesses were shut down by this pandemic. With restrictions easing in the summer of 2021, doctors saw an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus.
Now, it’s back again. And doctors are bracing for the possibility that RSV, flu and COVID-19 could combine to stress hospitals.
” It’s an emergency!” said Dr. Juan Salazar, Connecticut Children’s Hospital. RSV caused patients to be moved into spaces that were not used as beds and has resulted in a shuffle of their patients. Although the institution considered using a National Guard-affiliated hospital for this purpose, it has decided to not do so.
A look at RSV and what the recent surge may mean:
WHAT IS RSV?
It stands for respiratory syndrome virus. This is a common condition that causes mild symptoms like a runny nose and cough. Nearly all U.S. children normally catch an RSV infection by age 2. People infected with RSV are typically contagious for between three and eight days. RSV can be spread for as long as four weeks by people who have weakened immune systems or babies. There is no vaccine for it, though several candidates are in testing.
WHO IS IT ACTIVE?
Everyone can get RSV. But it causes the most threat to infants, older adults and other vulnerable people, who can get serious airway and lung infections.
Among U.S. kids under age 5, RSV typically leads to 58,000 hospitalizations and up to 500 deaths in a year.
For adults 65 and older, RSV causes 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths yearly. For babies, breathing difficulties can make it difficult to eat. “And that’s really when we start to worry,” said Dr. Melanie Kitagawa of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where more than 40 children have RSV.
“They’re breathing fast, breathing deep. “We see them using their chest muscles to breathe,” Kitagawa stated. “These are kids who are having difficulty taking a bottle because their breathing is being impacted and they can’t coordinate both at once.”
WHY IS THERE AN INCREASE NOW?
The virus is encountering a highly vulnerable population of babies and children who were sheltered from common bugs during the pandemic lockdowns.
Immune systems might not be as prepared to fight the virus after more than two years of masking, which offered protection, according to Dr. Elizabeth Mack of Medical University of South Carolina.
“South Carolina is drowning in RSV,” Mack said in a news release. She said that the surge came earlier than usual this year.
For babies, their mothers may not have been infected with RSV during pregnancy, which could have given the children some immunity.
U.S. health officials have noted a rise this month in national reports of respiratory illnesses, which they say is at least partly due to the early spread of flu in much of the South.
Last week, more than 7,000 tests came back positive for RSV, according to CDC figures. That’s more than in previous surges.
IS IT TREATMENT?
There is no treatment. It’s just a matter managing the symptoms and letting it run its course. To make breathing easier, doctors may recommend oral steroids and an inhaler.
In more serious situations, patients may be given oxygen, a tube for breathing, or a ventilator.
WHO DO DOCTORS RECOMMEND YOU?
Prevent the spread of viruses by washing hands thoroughly and staying home when you’re sick.
If you’re worried your child is having a severe breathing problem, “do not hesitate” to go to an emergency department or call 911, said Dr. Russell Migita of Seattle Children’s Hospital, where RSV is on the rise. Migita advised that for less serious medical issues, you can call your usual health care provider, use Telehealth, or visit an urgent care.
In Chicago on Saturday, Dr. Juanita Mora saw a family of five kids all with RSV, ranging from a 3-year-old to a teenager. Fearing what’s ahead this winter, she’s telling everyone to get a flu shot and a COVID-19 booster. Mora stated that we don’t want to see a triple whammy or a triple pandemic.
Associated Press/Report for America reporter James Pollard contributed from Columbia, South Carolina. Mike Stobbe, AP Medical writer contributed.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the responsibility of the Associated Press.
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