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RSV cases on the rise despite typically low summer season

Brazos Valley toddler hospitalized briefly with RSV
Posted at 5:55 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 18:55:00-04

BRYAN, TX — The Center for Disease Control [CDC] issued a public health advisory last month, urging clinicians to test patients for interseasonal respiratory syncytial virus, more commonly known as RSV. This illness typically would be seen in young children and elderly adults during the wintertime, but there’s been an increase of cases in the southern United States this summer.

Just a few weeks ago, the Willis family of Leon County noticed their youngest member, two-year-old Colt, wasn’t feeling his best. Initially, Colt’s symptoms of a runny nose, cough, and fever seemed pretty mild, and even appeared to be improving. But on a family car ride to Bryan, Colt's mom Casey Willis noticed that her son had trouble breathing, and was turning blue. They headed straight to the emergency room at CHI St. Joseph Hospital.

"Fortunately for us, he turned around pretty quickly with the medications they gave him," Casey said. "But we did stay one night in the hospital.”

Casey Willis is a registered nurse and said she could recognize the symptoms of RSV even before doctors confirmed the diagnosis. Thankfully, Colt made a recovery after about a week of resting at home.

According to the CDC, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, RSV cases were lower than average for a winter cold and flu season. This spring and summer have presented an anomaly.

"During [RSV's] typical season, the winter, everyone was wearing a mask, sick people were staying at home and socially distancing, and most respiratory illnesses were kind of minimized throughout the winter season," explained Dr. Jason McKnight, clinical assistant professor of primary care & population health at Texas A&M. "Now that everyone is taking their masks off and kind of going back to pre-pandemic behavior, we’re starting to see this surge in RSV cases.”

The CDC notice stated that because toddlers and infants weren’t exposed to RSV during the height of the pandemic, they may now be at an increased risk of more severe illnesses associated with RSV. Colt Willis' situation was complicated, in that he experienced an additional respiratory disease when he contracted RSV.

“They did an x-ray of his neck, which showed that he had croup," explained Casey Willis. "It’s what they call the steeple sign, where the airway is more narrow at the top... it causes [a child] to have more difficulty breathing.”

Dr. McKnight noted that a majority of children will catch RSV at some point in their lives, and survive the disease without serious damage. Still, he pointed out that it’s important for parents to be vigilant in monitoring a child’s symptoms for severity, and to physically distance a child from other people if they become sick.

"There’s no cause for alarm with this or anything," he said "...But certainly, if your kid is sick and appearing very ill, they’re not eating or drinking, they’re not staying awake for you, or it appears they have trouble breathing, then that’s definitely a reason to reach out to your health care provider.”