As Pettis County approaches the winter season, residents are beginning to see cases of RSV spike across the area.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious yet common virus that causes respiratory tract infection. RSV can affect all ages but affects young children, older adults and people with compromised immune systems more seriously.
Bothwell Regional Health Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phillip Fracica said RSV has been around for a while and tends to cause yearly problems. He explained some of the reasons why RSV can affect children more.
“One reason why is it may have to do with the immunity and the exposure — anybody can get repeated infections, but as people get infection after infection after infection, the severity seems to be milder,” Fracica said. “It may have something to do with the maturity or development of the lung, but it’s pretty clear that the younger the child is, the more likely it’s going to cause severe illness and hospitalization.”
RSV complications can cause infants to stop breathing, which is normally not seen in older children.
“Another difference is that in young children, it tends to attack the deeper tissue of the lungs and cause viral pneumonia, whereas in older children and adults, it tends to be an upper respiratory type of cold…” Fracica said. “For healthy adults, it (RSV) can be almost indistinguishable from a common cold.”
Fracica listed some signs parents can keep an eye on if their child has RSV and needs to see a doctor.
“Probably the biggest thing is the child is struggling to take a breath, really labored breathing — that would probably be the big sign…” Fracica said. “What happens is as the virus attacks the small air sacks in the lungs and the very small airways, that causes a lot of difficulty with getting the air in and out and getting a good airflow into the lungs.”
In most cases, this is something that will get better on its own within a few days, but there could be periods when a child would need extra oxygen, and in some cases, they may need to be on a ventilator or respirator for a few days.
“Usually the child will recover, again spontaneously, within two or three days, but their condition may deteriorate and get to be so bad that without help from medical technology, they may not be able to successfully survive the peak of the illness when it’s doing it worse in the lungs,” Fracica said.
When dealing with an illness like this, it is best to take your child to the doctor to receive medical help and, if it were to get worse, to call your child's on-call doctor or take them to the emergency room. In November, Bothwell had 171 positive RSV cases.
Bothwell TLC Family Nurse Practitioner Sarah Price said RSV had a more seasonal abruption in 2022 compared to 2021 when there was a summer surge.
“RSV had a pause during the period of isolation we saw during the pandemic, but it’s back the way we typically see it,” Price added. “Last year was a real oddball season because last year we had the summer surge.”
RSV has been studied rigorously over the years, but there is no well-known treatment that can make it go away or a vaccination that can help prevent someone from getting it.
“The keys to RSV is good hydration with suctioning of the nose and then just close monitoring for any signs of respiratory distress, dehydration or anything that can make a child be compromised to the point of requiring hospitalization,” Price said. There is not any medication that is found to have an impact on RSV.
Fracica said many of the children who are getting RSV this season were born during the pandemic. These children may be experiencing an illness like this for the first time, and having a more severe case, due to not having immunity built up.
“At the same time that we're seeing RSV hit an unprotected population, we’re also seeing influenza starting to pop up with a low vaccination rate among kids and COVID’s not gone,” Fracica said. “So people have kind of described it as a tripledemic where there is COVID, influenza and RSV all circulating at the same time.”
Fracica added that children getting worse cases of RSV due to not having the protection of a prior infection has become a problem in larger cities and across the country.
If Bothwell receives a child who needs hospitalization with RSV, they will be transferred to a children's hospital in another city. This is due to not having a pediatric ICU at Bothwell.
“This would be a good time for parents to try to take additional precautions,” Fracica added.
RSV is spread by touch and droplets, so Fracica recommends hand washing, mask-wearing and general good hygiene practices to lower the chance of transmission.
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