Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a virus that can cause severe problems, especially for young children and older adults, has increased illness and hospitalizations.
"We're seeing relatively high rates of infection occur earlier in the fall than usual," says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Center. "Typically, we don't see a lot of circulation of this virus until November. But this year, we are seeing much more than we generally see."
It's a prevalent virus that mostly causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most children will be infected with the virus by age 2. But for some children, it can be severe.
"RSV virus is a respiratory virus. When it infects young children, especially those under 2 years of age, it causes inflammation in the airways. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and the most common cause of pneumonia in young kids," says Dr. Rajapakse.
Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Rajapakse are available in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: "Mayo Clinic News Network." Name super/CG: Nipunie Rajapakse, M.D./Pediatric Infectious Diseases/Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Rajapakse says because children have a small airway when they develop inflammation due to RSV, it can cause difficulty breathing. Because of this, many children need to be hospitalized to manage their RSV infection, especially kids under 6 months old.
Early symptoms of RSV infection may be mild. It may take a few days into the illness for more severe symptoms to evolve.
"Symptoms of RSV include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, kids might not want to feed as much or have difficulty feeding, and they may be more fatigued than usual. The real things we make sure to ask parents to look out for are signs of difficulty breathing or working hard to breathe. This can include sucking in. You might notice it at the base of the throat or between the ribs, a child that's breathing fast, a child that's having difficulty breathing and feeding to the point where they're getting dehydrated," Dr. Rajapakse says.
Seek immediate medical care if your child (or an adult) has difficulty breathing.
Most mild RSV cases go away in a week or two. There are no specific treatments, though you may want to administer over-the-counter fever and pain relievers (never give aspirin to children). And drink plenty of fluid.
There are no preventive RSV vaccines currently.
There is an antibody product called palivizumab for some children who may be eligible. It is administered usually in five monthly doses throughout the RSV season. Dr. Rajapakse says those children are a relatively small group, including those with underlying conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or children who were born prematurely.
Along with those tips, Dr. Rajapakse says the measures that were adopted for the COVID-19 pandemic are also effective for helping slow the spread of other respiratory viruses, like RSV.
"RSV is a respiratory virus, so it's spread by respiratory droplets or by touching droplets from someone who's infected. Avoiding people who are sick, washing your hands, even wearing a mask would prevent transmission of RSV as well," adds Dr. Rajapakse. Children under 2 are not recommended to wear masks.
For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.