Parents of young children may be familiar with RSV as a seasonal childhood respiratory illness that typically appears in the winter months. But this year, RSV (also known as respiratory syncytial virus) has made an unlikely summer appearance.
“We’re seeing a lot of positive cases of RSV along with a plethora of other viruses,” said Sanjay Mehta, DO, FAAP, division chief of the pediatric emergency department at CentraState Medical Center. “Part of the reason is that the disease has changed and become more seasonally variable at this particular time. The other part of the equation is that life is normalizing and COVID-19 precautions are being lifted, such as wearing masks out in public, making it easier to catch respiratory viruses such as RSV.”
RSV typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms but at times can be serious, causing 58,000 hospitalizations a year in kids under five. Here are 3 important things to keep in mind about RSV this season:
- Most Cases of RSV Are Mild
While some cases of RSV are severe enough to require a child to be hospitalized, most cases are mild and can be managed at home. The most common symptoms doctors see in children with RSV are runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and sometimes wheezing. “The majority of kids will have very mild illness. But those who tend to get worse can have lower respiratory infections such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia,” Dr. Mehta explained.
- Some Symptoms Warrant a Trip to the ER
Some symptoms of RSV may be a red flag to bring your child to the emergency department. “In children under six months old, poor feeding is a big red flag,” Dr. Mehta said. And in older children, decreased urination can be a sign of dehydration. A bluish tint to the skin or fast breathing can indicate the child is having trouble breathing and needs to be seen in a more aggressive setting. And a worsening fever is another warning sign to look out for.
- Treatment Focuses on Managing Symptoms
“Since RSV is a virus, antibiotics unfortunately won’t help, so treatment focuses on keeping your child comfortable,” said Dr. Mehta. Medications, such as bronchodilators, can be helpful if the child is wheezing. Parents should keep their child well-hydrated with clear fluids and be on the lookout for signs that indicate the RSV is worsening, such as trouble breathing or prolonged fever.
While the timing of RSV has shifted, kids aren’t necessarily sicker than in prior years. With the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in respiratory viruses, such as RSV, may continue to change. The best thing you can do to help your child prevent RSV is to have them practice good hand hygiene and avoid other children who are sick.
For more information about pediatric services at CentraState Healthcare System, visit centrastate.com/services/pediatrics/