A respiratory disease that normally peaks in winter is surging in Southern states this summer, sickening infants and young children.
Physicians have seen an increase in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is a common childhood disease that generally causes mild cold-like symptoms and usually hits in colder months.
Several states have seen sharp increases in hospitalizations for the disease over the past month, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a health advisory warning that RVS is spreading in some Southern states.
While RSV is usually a mild disease, it can cause severe illness in the very young and very old, and kills up to 500 children under age 5 every year.
As they are seeing more cases of RSV this summer, physicians across the South are beginning to warn of a possible upcoming flood of both RSV and COVID-19 infections in children and teens.
Florida, Texas and Louisiana have seen spikes in RSV cases the past month, with Oklahoma physicians expressing concerns over the scarcity of hospital beds.
“RSV is a real issue right now,” Dr. Cameron Mantor, the chief medical officer for Oklahoma Children’s Hospital at OU Health, told The Oklahoman. “What is going to happen if we do have a surge in pediatric Covid cases?,” Mantor said.
Dr. Heather Haq, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, described in a series of tweets how her hospital is seeing an increase in both coronavirus and RSV hospitalizations.
“Currently there is regional variance in RSV & COVID circulation so not all regions are feeling this “surge upon surge”…yet. South seems to be worst hit right now, hearing accounts from #BatonRouge, #NewOrleans, #Galveston.”
In another tweet, Haq wrote, “After many months of zero or few pediatric Covid cases, we are seeing infants, children and teens with Covid pouring back into the hospital, more and more each day,” she wrote, adding that patients have ranged in age from 2 weeks to 17 years old, including some with COVID-19 pneumonia.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
With RSV on the rise, what should parents be looking for? According to the CDC, the symptoms of RSV include:
· Runny nose
· Decrease in appetite
The agency suggests that if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, is not drinking enough fluids, or is experiencing worsening symptoms, you should seek medical attention.
Almost all children get an RSV infection by age 2, according to the CDC, but very young babies and anyone with lung conditions or a weakened immune system should be watched carefully, according to the agency.
There is no specific treatment for RSV infection, the CDC says. Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two.
Why is it happening now?
Dr. Claudette Poole, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham, told NBC that COVID-19 played a part in the delay in the normal “season” for RSV.
“My speculation is that because we suppressed its normal circulation time during the winter, it’s sort of making up for lost time now,” said Poole said.
According to Poole, Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham has recently experienced a rise in infant hospitalizations due to RSV.
Another theory for an increase in cases in children is that babies who were born during or shortly before the pandemic may not have come into contact with the virus as they would normally have since people were staying at home.
“These viruses don’t disappear in the summer; they’re just much, much lower in frequency,” Dr. Richard Malley, a senior physician in pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Newsweek.
Malley said that the surge of RSV in the summer may be because the immunity a child gets being out in public “was not reinforced by exposure.”
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