Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is common in young children. However, the US spread rate here is a concern that hospitals may experience pressure from a resurgence of this virus and COVID-19. This article will outline what RSV is, who is most affected by it, and everything else you need to know about this curious condition sweeping the nation.
More About RSV
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a pathogen that almost everyone has had exposure to by the time they reach a very young age. The common symptoms of the virus produce mild, cold-like reactions in healthy adults and older children. These symptoms usually disappear following a few days of moderate rest and care. The most severe cases of RSV that may result in the need for hospitalization occur in young children six months of age and younger.
RSV is something to watch for because no vaccine is currently available to prevent it, and the only known treatment requires monoclonal antibodies. In addition, only patients in high-risk categories have access to this treatment, including premature infants and individuals with chronic heart and lung diseases.
What They Had To Say
Infectious disease specialist Diego Hijano of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital says there is usually a time of year when RSV surfaces. “We always expect it around November, to start appearing in late November and peak through December, January and then decreasing by March, April.”
However, Hijano says the typical pattern RSV has followed in the past changed somewhat in recent years, with an outbreak occurring during summer months and then nothing for a period. “We have already seen above what we expect for October any given year in terms of RSV locally and around the country.” He adds that this is concerning since we will face three health threats this winter: COVID, flu, and RSV.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 4-thousand cases of RSV have been reported weekly in recent months. This event matches the volume experienced in the summer of 2021 when another outbreak occurred. However, the CDC says the case numbers have trended downward lately but advises that the data is incomplete and could change.
Exposure to RSV and flu virus has reduced due to COVID restrictions, including remote work-from-home options. In addition, with more parents working from home, they have opted to remove their children from daycare, which has proven to be a benefit in slowing down the spread of all transmittable viruses.
Children’s Hospitals Reach Capacity
On the other side of the coin, RSV and common cold spikes have filled children’s hospitals in many major centers. Connecticut Children’s Medical Center vice president Juan Salazar says he is concerned as he has never seen such a volume of viral transmission or hospitalization requirement in his 30-year career.
Boston Children’s Hospital infectious disease specialist Kristin Moffitt says she was confident her hospital was ready for an influx of cases. However, there was no indication of such a situation when interviewed. “I can only speak for my hospital. We are very, very adaptable…and frankly, children’s hospitals and pediatric emergency rooms have been adapting.” She adds that they have adapted to a surge in the use of pediatric emergency rooms to treat various conditions affecting young children.
The Challenge of Treating Severe Cases
Since RSV cases now occur at a slightly different time of year and a higher rate, Moffitt says this will create challenges in dealing with severe cases. That is because the only treatment at this point is monoclonal antibodies. The challenge comes from the lifespan of these antibodies, which is short. They have such a short lifespan that they require monthly stock.
When the RSV timeline was more predictable, it allowed hospitals and medical clinics to order the necessary treatments. However, with the RSV cycle shifting to earlier in the year, it may mean some hospitals do not have enough treatments available when they need them most.
Parents Advised To Reduce Exposure
What compounds the problem further is that no vaccine is yet available to prevent RSV. This delinquency has caused infectious disease specialists to advise parents that they will have to get actively involved in helping to reduce the spread of the virus. So far, limiting children’s exposure to others is the best way to do that.
Mask-wearing, a mandated protocol during COVID, is no longer a requirement. While it could be effective, the best way to control exposure levels to the virus is to keep children home if they are sick, wash and disinfect hands, and cough or sneeze into the inside of the elbow rather than in a hand or the environment.
Additional Precautions For Parents
Moffitt adds that parents need to know who is in close contact with their children and that these individuals are always healthy when near children. Another suggestion is that parents request individuals not part of the household refrain from kissing their babies. Parents also need to keep a close eye on the health of their toddlers and young children to identify any cold-like symptoms early on. That interaction with other children in the home or daycare is only allowed if no cold-like signs are displayed.
The best way to reduce the spread of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is to limit exposure to others with symptoms resembling the common cold. Infants younger than six months can develop a severe case of RSV requiring treatment with antibodies. However, there is no vaccine to prevent it; if you contract it, rest and self-care will get you through it. If your child attends daycare and shows signs of cold-like symptoms, keep them home in case, it turns out to be another case of RSV.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.
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