August 23, 2021
RSV cases are on the rise. Don’t delay care if you see these symptoms in your child.
While it’s been a tough year with many health challenges, a new concern has quickly emerged for toddlers and infants: RSV.
RSV, short for respiratory syncytial virus, infects nearly 60,000 pre-kindergarten-age children each year, but hospitals are reporting an increased number of cases this year. It’s believed some of the measures required to combat COVID-19, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, have impacted the ability of toddlers and infants to build up natural immunity to fight off RSV – leading to increased cases across the state.
The current rise in RSV also correlates with children returning to daycare and playgroups once people returned to work, or “normal life,” after COVID-19 vaccines became available.
“RSV can be incredibly serious, and even fatal in some cases, if it’s not treated properly by a medical professional,” said Cassie Kotlarczyk, BSN, RN, EMT-P/IC, Director of Emergency Services for Memorial Healthcare in Owosso (MI). “As cases continue to spread at a higher rate than normal throughout Michigan, we encourage parents to be vigilant.”
How is RSV Spread?
The virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth, and is spread by droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. RSV can also be spread by direct contact with an infected person, such as shaking hands or sitting in close proximity to someone with the illness.
It’s important to note older adults, or those with weakened immune systems, can get RSV, too.
According to Kotlarczyk, initial symptoms may be like that of a cold, including:
- A runny and/or stuffy nose and/or cough
- Decreased appetite and/or activity level
- Trouble breathing or if there’s a pause in breathing while sleeping
Unlike a cold, however, if left untreated more severe symptoms can crop up. For example, bluish skin, difficulty breathing, wheezing, refusing to eat or take a bottle, and dehydration are all severe symptoms of RSV – which can result in a decrease of urination, tears, or a dry mouth.
The sooner you get treatment, the better chances are to avoid more severe symptoms.
“Parents know their children. If something doesn’t seem right — if you’re not sure — see your doctor,” said Kotlarczyk. “In early stages of RSV, there’s a drug that can be given that helps. If it’s an extreme case — once the illness has advanced — hospitalization and oxygen may be necessary. When in doubt, see your doctor.”
If your family doctor or pediatrician is unavailable, Kotlarczyk advises parents to seek help at an urgent care or nearby emergency department.
“There’s no reason to hesitate if your child has any of these symptoms,” Kotlarczyk said. “We can help them feel better quickly before more advanced symptoms arise.”
An Ounce of Prevention
When it comes to preventing your child getting sick with RSV, common sense measures prevail, including:
- Limiting your child’s contact with others who may have the virus
- Hand washing for adults and children — and always washing your hands before handling your baby
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Covering your cough and sneezes with a tissue and throwing it away after use
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are often touched by others, like doorknobs or toys
- Keeping your child home if they are sick