Respiratory virus—commonly called RSV—This year it hit earlier than usualIt causes many cases in emergency rooms and children’s hospitals.

Doctors say early rise in infections and hospitalizations this year could be due to Covid-19 precautions It has reduced our exposure to many virusesincluding RSV, in the last few years. Many young children who have not previously been exposed to RSV are getting it for the first time this fall.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that people get many times in their lifetime, doctors say. Although the cough may last longer, it usually clears up with mild, cold-like symptoms within a week. For most people, it’s basically the flu.

The virus can cause serious illness in both older and younger children. People at high risk Serious illness and hospitalization Children under 2 years of age, as well as individuals 65 and older, especially those with chronic heart or lung disease or a weakened immune system.

Daniel Rauch, MD, chief of medicine at Tufts Medical Center Children’s Hospital and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Hospital Care, said this year doctors have seen 2- to 4-year-olds hospitalized for RSV.

“We’re seeing the older kids getting sicker than usual and maybe it’s because they haven’t had RSV in the last couple of years,” he says. “I don’t remember seeing this number of sick preschoolers in my decades of work.

What should you know about RSV? Here is the advice given by doctors and immunologists.

Symptoms of RSV

The most common symptoms of RSV are similar to those of the flu: congestion, sneezing, coughing, and fever. The reason the virus is especially dangerous for children is because it causes bronchitis, or inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, which causes breathing problems.

The smaller the baby, the smaller the airway and the easier it is to plug up with mucus, says Sarah Coombs, MD, director of outreach and emergency department outreach at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

You can get bronchiolitis from other respiratory viruses, but RSV is the most common cause, says Elizabeth Schlaudeker, M.D., MD, a pediatrician and medical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. This is because many other viruses primarily affect the upper respiratory tract, but RSV often enters the lower airways of the respiratory tract.

In older people, RSV can cause complications of existing chronic conditions or lead to pneumonia.

Doctors are reporting higher numbers of respiratory illnesses like RSV and flu earlier than the usual peak of winter. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains what early surgery means for the upcoming winter months. Photo credit: Caitlin Wang

When to worry

If you take off a baby’s or toddler’s shirt and see that the skin has fallen between the ribs and their stomach is sucking and sucking, this is a sign that they are having trouble breathing and using their muscles to push air in and out, says Dr. Combs. . Call your doctor if your child appears to be having trouble breathing.

Another problem that can occur in babies, especially those 6 months and under, is difficulty nursing during busy periods or bottle feeding, which can lead to dehydration. Try feeding with a plastic syringe. Call your doctor if you’re only producing one wet diaper or less than every eight hours, says Dr. Combs.

Children with chronic lung or heart disease are at higher risk of severe disease from RSV, says Dr. Schlaudeker. RSV can cause worsening asthma symptoms in children with asthma.

Don’t worry too much about fever, says Dr. Combs. Fever is a sign that the immune system is working. Give your child an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help them feel comfortable.

Hospitals in the elderly

Ardeshir Hashmi, MD, division chief of the Cleveland Clinic’s Geriatrics Center, said that while much of the focus has been on hospitalized infants and children, older adults are also being admitted to the hospital disproportionately.

“The more medical conditions there are, the more risky they are,” Dr. Hashmi said. “The more weak they are, the weaker the respiratory muscles are and the more difficult it is to clear the infection.”

RSV can cause worse lung or heart disease problems in the elderly, says Dr. Hashmi. During the outbreak, many people missed doctor’s appointments and did not keep chronic conditions under control, which may have exacerbated some of the increases in RSV hospitalizations.

RSV commonly leads to Approximately 58,000 to 80,000 hospitalizations According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 100 to 300 people die each year in children under the age of 5. It causes an average of 60,000 to 120,000 hospitalizations and 6,000 to 10,000 deaths in the elderly each year.

Treat RSV

Researchers are working. Preparing vaccines for RSV Also antiviral drugs. However, there is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for RSV.

Pediatricians recommend giving over-the-counter fever reducers to babies with high temperatures and drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Doctors can do rapid RSV tests, but they say children don’t need to be brought in or tested unless they have severe breathing problems and need medical attention.

Hospitalized RSV patients often receive supplemental oxygen or IV fluids, says Elizabeth Murray, MD, an emergency medicine pediatrician at the University of Rochester. Occasionally, mechanical ventilation is required.

How RSV is spread and how to prevent it

RSV is usually spread through droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs near you. You can get it by touching areas contaminated with those droplets and then touching your mouth or nose.

Hand washing is especially important to reduce transmission. Cleaning commonly touched surfaces, especially in daycares and nursing homes, is also an important prevention strategy. Caregivers can wear masks to help protect themselves.

Doctors say immunity from RSV is short-lived. According to Dr. Rauch, even two infections can occur in one season.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at

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