While COVID-19 is the dominant virus making people sick, there are several other viruses pediatricians and Primary Children’s Hospital caregivers are seeing high numbers – particularly, babies with Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.
“We are experiencing a messy viral blizzard that is complicating our health care system’s ability to get through this tsunami wave of omicron variant infections. One of those complicating viruses is RSV,” said Dr. Per Gesteland, hospitalist for University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.
RSV is a serious respiratory illness that affects children every winter. Each January and February, Primary Children’s fills with hundreds of ill infants and toddlers who require hospitalization to be treated for RSV complications. Many children need ventilators and other treatments to help them breathe.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has flipped historic trends. In January and February 2021, Primary Children’s had no RSV patients, which was unheard of. Last summer, RSV cases spiked, which also is unheard of in the summer months.
Primary Children’s caregivers continue to see high numbers of children with RSV, Dr. Gesteland said. He says he’s seeing some more severe RSV cases than usual, and ICU admissions have come in waves.
“Data from our GermWatch.org system, which tracks the activity of germs circulating in Utah, suggests that we are over the peak of the outbreak that started way back in summer,” Dr. Gesteland said. “However, given the very unusual dynamics of infectious disease activity we are seeing right now, we are concerned that we are nowhere close to being out of the woods yet. In fact, it is quite possible that we could see additional waves of RSV heading into the depths of winter.”
RSV symptoms include coughing, wheezing and runny nose. Parents should watch out for wheezing, fast breathing or very difficult breathing, and fever that lasts more than 3 days or that is higher than 100.2°F in babies 3 months old or younger.
In such cases, babies should see a health care provider, Dr. Gesteland said.
“The good news is that the simple measures we can use to help stop the spread of COVID are even more effective at stopping the spread of RSV,” including masking, immunizations, good hand hygiene, and limiting social interactions, Dr. Gesteland said.
“If we can all just buckle down for the next several weeks and do our part to help keep our babies, our elders, and our other at-risk neighbors safe, it could go a long way to taking some of the immense pressure being placed on our already buckling health care system and front line providers.”
RSV and other disease trends, as well as symptoms to watch for and ways to help ease symptoms at home, can be found online at GermWatch.org.