Doctors see new spike in cases of childhood virus

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infects almost all young children by the time they reach their second birthday.
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 4:20 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Doctors are monitoring an unusual spike in cases of a potentially serious childhood virus.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infects almost all young children by the time they reach their second birthday.

Symptoms include runny nose, cough and sometimes a fever, much like a common cold.

Most recover in about two weeks. But in about 1% of cases, the child develops severe symptoms and may require hospitalization.

“Labored breathing, where you see children breathing with their abdomen, the belly, maybe pulling the ribs, skin pulling between the ribs... those are signs of respiratory distress,” Dr. Scott Bickel, Norton Pediatric Pulmonologist said. “But in many cases, it starts with runny nose, maybe a mild cough and may progress from there.”

Why doctors are seeing so many RSV cases right now is something of a medical mystery. It may be linked to COVID precautions.

“With COVID, people have been wearing masks previously,” Bickel said. “And so maybe kids weren’t as exposed. So you have sort of a larger number of children that maybe didn’t have as much exposure to this early in life as they might have. But, I think that’s still an open question we are going to learn more about over time.”

Last year at this time, Norton doctors were seeing about 30 cases of RSV. They are currently seeing more than double that number, leading to speculation there could be a more severe cold and flu season ahead.

Children with existing respiratory and heart problems are most likely to develop serious symptoms.

“If your child starts to develop a cold,” Bickel said, “watch for some of those other symptoms such as labored breathing, shortness of breath, as well as possibly even dehydration.”