Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a respiratory virus among infants and the elderly, and while cases of infection generally rise beginning in December each year, North Texas saw a spike in cases in August.
Dr. Maxie Brewer, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Cook Children’s Health Care System, told ABC News the earlier-than-usual RSV spike this year has “been crazy” and has led to long emergency room wait times.
“This has been the highest volume of patients I have ever seen,” Brewer said.
Cook Children’s reported that the hospital system’s emergency room has been operating at full capacity since August. Between October 9 and October 15, Cook Children’s Medical Center recorded 288 RSV cases.
ABC News reported that all of Cook Children’s urgent care centers saw 600-700+ children per day.
Brewer stated that the virus patterns and immunity have changed since parents had to keep their children at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. She recommends seeking assistance immediately if difficult or rapid breathing occurs but said to only go to an emergency room in the event of a life-threatening emergency.
The doctor suggested making an appointment with a pediatrician first, then an urgent care center if seeing a pediatrician quickly isn’t possible. Brewer said going to the emergency room should be the third option for situations that do not involve an emergency, ABC News reported.
RSV spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to TODAY. It typically causes cold-like symptoms but can progress to pneumonia and bronchitis in severe cases.
The virus infects people of all ages, especially infants, children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people. RSV infects 96% of children under 5.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2017 that RSV caused approximately 33 million serious respiratory infections yearly, PRNewswire reported in 2021. At that point, over 3 million hospitalizations and nearly 60,000 deaths occurred among children under 5.
RSV had a global economic impact of approximately $4.2 billion in 2019. However, no RSV vaccines or drugs with high efficacy for RSV treatment were available globally, PRNewswire reported.
Dr. Rosemary Olivero, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital head of infectious diseases in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told TODAY that RSV is frequently spread when someone with the virus on their hand touches another person.
Hand washing is still crucial in preventing its spread, and experts recommend that parents of children under 2 ask people to wash their hands before touching their babies.
Dr. Asuncion Mejias, an infectious disease specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, said asking people not to cuddle young babies may help reduce RSV cases, according to TODAY.
“Trying to avoid kissing or hugging — on top of the washing of hands — is critical,” she said. “It’ll really help you to decrease the exposure of RSV in young babies.”