Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Cases Rise in the US

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Pediatric hospitals in the US are reporting a sharp increase in the number of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases in the US typically start appearing in the fall. The cases peak by winter and spring and then begin to decline. However, in the fall-winter season of 2020/2021, RSV cases in the United States saw a sharp decline. Researchers believe it was a result of pandemic measures such as frequent hand-washing, masking, and social distancing. But as the restrictions eased, health officials began seeing a rise in cases. According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the upward rise began from April 2021.

However, what’s most unusual about the cases is their timing. Unlike other spikes, this surge is occurring in summer. And to make matters worse, hospitals around the country are reporting an increased number of severe COVID cases in infants and toddlers. Researchers believe the delta variant is to blame for the surge in COVID pneumonia among children.

RSV commonly causes a mild cold-like illness in children. However, in some cases, the disease can become dangerous and develop into pneumonia or bronchiolitis. According to the CDC, premature infants and children with weakened immune systems are most at risk of developing a severe illness. Every year, around 58,000 children under 5 years of age undergo hospitalization due to RSV in the US. However, RSV is a common occurrence, and almost all children catch an infection by the time they turn 2 years old.

Multiple States Reporting Cases

The rise in RSV cases has led to an increase in hospitalizations and emergency room visits of infants and children. Pediatric hospitals in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana have all reported a sharp increase in cases. Moreover, the surge of COVID and RSV together is posing multiple challenges for healthcare workers. Many fear they will soon reach their capacity as beds continue to fill up fast.  

This year the virus made a resurgence in the summertime, when children’s hospitals have lighter staffing. We are now having winter-level patient volumes of acutely ill infants/toddlers with RSV and I worry that we will run out of beds and staff to handle the surge upon surge.

Dr. Heather Haq, pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston

However, it is unclear as to why cases of other respiratory viruses, such as influenza aren’t rising while RSV cases continue to increase. According to researchers, the low number of RSV cases during the 2020/2021 winter season caused less than typical level of exposure to infants and toddlers. Thus, making them more susceptible to severe RSV illness now.

As schools resume and Delta continues to wreak havoc, doctors are concerned about possible outbreaks of the disease. Therefore, they are advising mandatory vaccines and masking in school settings.

Source: CDC

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