- Anyone can be infected with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
- But the disease tends to hit babies and the elderly harder than school-age children and parents.
- Common symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sneezing, wheezing, and fever.
Pediatricians across the country are concerned about the number of children with severe cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
Emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and intensive care units are filling up earlier than usual this fall – a trend doctors say is due in part to children returning to school and the daycare with relaxed COVID restrictions.
But small children aren’t the only ones catching RSV right now — their infections are especially noticeable. RSV can cause dangerous cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in young children, making it a major cause of hospitalization for babies under the age of one. At least 100 children die from RSV each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One of the reasons the disease hits babies so hard is that they have little or no immunity to the virus. In addition, their small size makes them extremely vulnerable.
“They have wheezing and difficulty breathing — the tiny little airways are filled with mucus,” Dr. Per Gesteland, a pediatric hospitalist at the University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, told Insider. .
You’ve probably had RSV before and you’ll probably have it again
Normally, children catch RSV at least once by the age of two, but this hasn’t happened reliably during the pandemic as many child care centers have closed and caregivers have masked up. This means that some toddlers are also suffering from severe cases of RSV at the moment, although most still have mild infections that can be managed at home. In addition to infants, RSV can also be fatal for adults over 65, whose immune systems weaken with age.
School children, adolescents and young adults, on the other hand, can catch RSV without ever knowing it. They may remain completely asymptomatic, or their symptoms are so mild that they mistake the illness for a cold.
RSV symptoms often occur in stages and can include:
- Runny nose
- Loss of appetite
- To sneeze
“There’s often this spread of young kids picking it up at school and in the community and then taking it home,” Gesteland said. “The baby may be most affected, and the parent may have just a mild annoying cold, and the school-aged child may have a moderately severe upper respiratory infection.”
Immunity does not last forever and it is possible, although unusual, to catch RSV twice in the same year. Usually, when this happens, the second infection is milder.
Mothers can pass some RSV immunity to their babies – but there’s no vaccine for it yet
It’s not just children who have avoided RSV infections in recent years. Many parents also spent at least a year avoiding RSV while masking and staying away from COVID, and this may have weakened the immunity that mothers would typically pass on to their children.
Dr Behnoosh Afghani, pediatric infectious disease specialist at UCI Health in Orange County, California, suspects many babies and toddlers are being exposed to RSV for the first time – without the usual protective antibodies their mothers would have could have transmitted in utero or through breast milk if they had recently had RSV.
There are some RSV vaccines in late-stage development for pregnant women and the elderly, but for now RSV prevention is relegated to the basic hygiene advice we’ve all heard before: wash well hands, stay away from sick people and exercise caution. the most vulnerable among us. Avoiding kissing babies during cold and flu season is essential, say doctors.
“I don’t have some kind of golden tip to prevent all of this,” Dr. Melanie Kitagawa, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Texas Children’s Hospital, told Insider. “I just have to help the kids through and give their bodies time to fight this virus.”