“When the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, we saw the rates of all viruses plummet” reports Dr. Vandana Madhavan, director of advanced pediatrics at Mass General Brigham in Boston. Today’s RSV is Worse. Rates of COVID and flu are up for children aged 0 to 5, and for the last few months, young patients with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) have been overwhelming hospitals. Public health experts warn that there could be a “tripledemic” of flu, COVID, and RSV.
Many young children haven’t had the usual exposure to viruses at daycare or in preschool or in the community. Even though nearly all children typically get RSV by age 2, current cases are more severe (related to the lockdown periods). The problem is that their small lungs and muscles can’t muster up the power to cough up or sneeze out the increased secretions and mucus caused in their airways.
“They have a hard time getting out that excess fluid and that’s why they have trouble breathing which then leads to problems eating and drinking,” Madhavan said.
How to Prevent RSV. Health officials recommend getting updated COVID booster and influenza vaccines this winter, and they have the following tips for reducing rates of serious RSV:
- staying hydrated
- keeping hands away from the face
- disinfecting surfaces
For those with newborns or babies under age 12 months: keep children away from adults who have been recently sick, in any way.
“[Dr. Madhavan] suggested not being shy about grilling others about how they’ve been feeling. “A lot of the time when people ask that question, the person on the other end really only thinks to mention anything if they’ve been really sick, so they don’t think to mention if they’ve had a minor cold.” But that could become a serious case of RSV for an infant or a toddler, she added.”
Is There an RSV Vaccine? There is no RSV vaccine yet, although there are many in development. There is, however, a treatment called palivizumab that is available to high-risk infants.
“[Dr. Madhavan] strongly discourages people from heading to the ER to get tested for RSV or other respiratory viruses. “If you think you or your child has it, it’s best to pick up the phone and call your doctor or nurse rather than coming into a setting that might mean a long wait or exposure to other viruses. Milder cases can often be treated virtually.”
When to Go to the ER? Seek more intensive care when an infant or young child is working extra hard to breathe. That includes a flaring of the nostrils, grunting as they inhale and exhale, or the skin between or below the ribs or collarbone pulls in and out.
See this link for a Help Me Grow parent handout about RSV.
Information used in this blog post is based on “RSV is surging. Here’s what to watch for and answers about treatment options” by Vanessa Romo for NPR – KUER 90.1, dd. 11/2/2022
Summarized by Robin Lindsay