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Is RSV fatal? 5 things you need to know about virus sweeping through children's hospitals

'It's an upper respiratory infection that causes cold-like symptoms but for children under the age of two, it can be a serious infection,' says the former head of FDA
A representational image (Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images)
A representational image (Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC: As we are heading into the winter months, many children's hospitals across the country are experiencing an increase in respiratory virus (RSV) cases. And this is prompting fears of a ‘tripledemic’ hitting the health system, reports DailyMail. So, is it really fatal? Let’s find out!

The past month has seen flu cases tripling alongside signs of Covid persisting in 13 states. To which, Dr Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that he is expecting this winter to be more 'aggresive' than other months. The data obtained by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of positive tests for RSV reached their highest level since 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic began. 


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Commenting on it, Dr Gottlieb told CBS on 'Face the Nation,' "This is a virus that we typically see in the late winter, we started to see cases in the summertime and we're seeing a peak in cases right now. This is not unlike the season last year, where we also saw an early peak in those cases. Some people ascribe it to the fact that children have been somewhat removed from the circulating pathogen, so you don't have as much immunity in the population generally. So it's changed the typical cycle for this virus and we've seen these waves of infection from RSV earlier in the season that we would normally see. For most people, this is a self-limiting infection. It's an upper respiratory infection that causes cold-like symptoms but for children under the age of two, it can be a serious infection. And it's especially concerning for those who are immunocompromised, children who are immunocompromised, or those in the neonatal intensive care unit, as well as older adults, elderly Americans or people who have other kinds of conditions that put them at risk."

As per WRAL, Dr David Weber from UNC Hospitals said people with RSV may show cold-like symptoms: fever, cough, fatigue and headache. "We’re seeing substantially more children than we would expect at this time of the year hospitalized due to RSV and we’ve seen a few cases of influenza hospitalized," said the doctor, who added, "It can be life-threatening for some children. Young children have to be careful about seizures due to high fever, turning blue from not enough oxygen. Lethargy, not eating well." Talking about the growing cases among kids, Michelle Lion-Atkins, a parent, said, "It’s definitely a worry. It just feels like you can’t escape getting something." 

Children's hospitals in the Washington, DC area, including Children's National Hospital, Inova Fairfax and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, are at or near capacity, DCist reported. Connecticut Children's Hospital in Hartford has had its pediatric in-patient beds full for the last few weeks, claimed the news outlet. With the outbreak not slowing down, officials are now seeking the help of the National Guard and FEMA to set up tents in order to expand capacity, states NPR.

Peak season for RSV

The RSV season runs from mid -September to mid-November. But this year, it began a bit early in August, as per the reports by DailyMail. According to CDC, RSV infections can be dangerous for some adults. The report states that each year, imore than 177,000 older adults are hospitalized and 14,000 of them die in the US due to this infection. Adults at highest risk for severe RSV infection include those who are 65 years and older, adults with chronic heart or lung disease and adults with weakened immune systems.

5 things you need to know about RSV

1) Major cause of respiratory illness in babies: For babies, an RSV is like a normal cold. However, for premature babies and infants with chronic diseases and/or lower immune systems, this infection can lead to serious problems like bronchiolitis or pneumonia, which can become life-threatening.

2) Most common symptoms: Keep an eye for symptoms like runny nose, fever, cough, short periods without breathing, touble eating, drinking or swallowing, flaring of the nostrils or straining of the chest or stomach while breathing, breathing faster than normal, and turning blue around the lips and fingertips, as per UH Hospitals.

3) Highly contagious: The virus can be spread through droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. It can live for a few hours leading to an easy and fast spread.

4) Adults can infect young children with RSV: 
An adult, may not realize they are infected with the virus but can still be contagious. And can easily pass on the infection to high-risk children through close contact.

5) No specific treatment: Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California told Self that the illness is caused by a virus and it can’t be treated with antibiotics. At present, there are no specific medications for RSV and there are also no approved vaccines to prevent it. Although some antiviral drugs may help in severe cases.