Pediatricians across the area are seeing an unusual spike in the common respiratory illness, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), this summer.
The virus usually acts like a common cold with congestion and cough, and sometimes sneezing and fever. For adults, the virus is typically just an inconvenience but in infants and young children, it can be more serious, sometimes leading to hospitalization.
SSM pediatrician Dr. Katie Blount says doctors aren’t quite sure why RSV is so prevalent this summer.
“Normally RSV is really seasonal and we start to see it just before flu season hits, like late October to early November and it peaks in February and then usually tapers off at a few months after that. And so seeing it during the summer is very different for us.”
Blount says what makes RSV more serious is that while the virus typically only affects the upper respiratory tract, in infants and children it can move to the lower respiratory tract causing bronchiolitis which can lead to wheezing and trouble breathing.
“If they’re starting to have persistently fast breathing and sometimes you can see their little ribs sucking in every time they’re taking a breath or they might even be making a little grunting noise or their head might kind of bob a little bit while they’re breathing. If it just looks like they’re working harder to breathe, that’s the most important reason that I tell families to come in.”
Blount says dehydration is a common risk factor for children with RSV because they’re less prone to drink or nurse if their noses are stuffy. Another risk factor is that it’s often difficult to tell the difference between RSV and COVID.
“Currently both are most commonly tested by a nasal swab. But as far as the symptoms you’d see, they can look identical.”
Blount says those children three months and younger are at the greatest risk, as well as young children with several risk factors such as lung or heart conditions or premature birth.