RSV spiking nationwide, especially in Southern states, during unlikely season

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Doctors are warning parents to watch their young children, not just for symptoms of COVID-19, but a respiratory disease not normally seen at this time of year.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, more commonly known as RSV, is spiking nationwide, but especially in the South, sparking the CDC to issue a health advisory last month. More than 1,500 cases of the respiratory virus were reported nationwide this week, compared to just 11 cases around this time last year.

Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health said it is not uncommon for infants to get RSV, but to see a spike at this time of year is rare.

“It’s very disturbing that we’re seeing RSV, and again, pediatricians are very familiar disease, we’re much more familiar with seeing it in the fall and winter, but we’re seeing this emergence now really due to a number of factors,” Dr. Landers said.

Those factors, she says, correlate with COVID-19 restrictions being lifted.

“In the winter, more people were at home. We still had masks in place and we still have mitigation standards in place to reduce respiratory diseases,” she said. “Specifically, school-aged children were wearing masks so they weren’t necessarily bringing this disease home to their younger siblings.”

RSV is usually nothing more than a common cold for older children and adults, but for infants and the elderly, it can be much more serious.

“Lower respiratory symptoms, respiratory distress, coughing, wheezing, even requiring oxygen. In some cases, mechanical ventilation. That’s pretty rare but it certainly can occur,” Dr. Landers said.

The CDC had warned of an unseasonable rise in RSV cases last month, explaining that RSV infections primarily occur during the fall and winter. The rise in cases, the CDC says, is likely due to children having lower exposure to the virus between May 2020 and March 2021 amid “public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

“Due to reduced circulation of RSV during the winter months of 2020–2021, older infants and toddlers might now be at increased risk of severe RSV-associated illness since they have likely not had typical levels of exposure to RSV during the past 15 months,” the CDC wrote in June.

The CDC also encouraged medical providers to implement broader RSV testing on patients who presented with respiratory symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19.

Landers recommends that parents monitor their children closely for symptoms of RSV, and act fast if they notice their infant is wheezing, coughing a lot or showing other cold-like symptoms. She also suggests parents should treat this summer season as if it were flu season to protect their young children as best as they can.

“Be mindful of respiratory hygiene — and that’s good hand washing, good hand hygiene, cough etiquette and really keeping your kids away from people that are ill,” she said.

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