RSV: What parents should know about the virus that is pushing hospitals to capacity

Doctors across the country say they are seeing an ‘unprecedented’ rise in a common cold-like virus that has put a strain on hospitals as more children are being seen for the infection and admitted because of it.

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Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has been seen in high numbers in several parts of the country, doctors are reporting. While it is a common virus, health care officials say they are seeing many more sick children than usual for this time of year.

Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., neared capacity this week with a spike in the cases of the respiratory illness, according to Axios.

“RSV admissions have skyrocketed at Connecticut Children’s. October has been like never before for this virus,” Monica Buchanan, senior director at Connecticut Children’s Hospital, told CNN.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ve been at Connecticut Children’s for 25 years, and I have never seen this level of surge — specifically of RSV — coming into our hospital,” Juan Salazar, the physician-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s, told CNN.

Salazar told The Wall Street Journal that the 187-bed children’s hospital is considering setting up a field hospital outside of the hospital’s main facilities in the event the surge of cases gets worse.

Here’s a look at RSV and what parents should look out for:

What is RSV?

RSV is a virus that infects the respiratory tract. It is easily transmissible, which helps it to circulate among groups of children.

The virus spreads through droplets from coughing and sneezing and on surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, a lung infection, and pneumonia in children younger than 12 months in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The virus leads to the hospitalization of around 58,000 children younger than age five. Between 100 and 500 deaths are attributed to the virus annually. Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.

What are the symptoms?

People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days after getting infected. The symptoms include:

· Runny nose

· Decrease in appetite

· Coughing

· Sneezing

· Fever

· Wheezing

The CDC notes that the symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once.

According to the American Lung Association, very young infants may be irritable, fatigued and have breathing difficulties.

If a child has a barking or wheezing cough, it can be one of the first signs of a more serious illness.

If infants are suffering with severe RSV they will have short, shallow and rapid breathing. This can be identified by “caving-in” of the chest in between the ribs and under the ribs (chest wall retractions), “spreading-out” of the nostrils with every breath (nasal flaring), and abnormally fast breathing, the ALA website says.

In addition, their mouth, lips and fingernails may turn a bluish tint due to lack of oxygen.

Very young infants may be irritable, fatigued and have breathing difficulties.

“The ones who tend to get the most sick are the infants below four months. And then the ones who are older who tend to get most sick are those who have some other medical conditions,” said Dr. Sameer Kamath, chief medical officer for Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center.

How is it treated?

If you or your child have a mild case of RSV, you should be alright within a week or two without treatment.

The American Lung Association recommends over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, but nasal saline drops to manage symptoms.

In severe cases, most commonly for infants younger than 6 months of age and older adults, hospitalization may be needed, the ALA says.

When should you call the doctor?

You should call your doctor if you or your child is having trouble breathing, has poor appetite or decreased activity levels, cold symptoms that become severe, a shallow cough or a barking cough that continues throughout the day and night.

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