By Benjamin Neufeld
The nation is experiencing an extreme surge in respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, especially among infants and children. Ethnic Media Services hosted a press briefing on Nov. 18, with a panel of medical experts regarding the “alarming surge” of RSV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV causes mild symptoms in most adults, but can be deadly for infants. According to Ethnic Media Services, “A new study estimates that 1 in 50 deaths of otherwise healthy children under age 5 around the world is due to [RSV].”
The panel featured Dr. Manisha Newaskar, a clinical assistant professor of pediatric pulmonary medicine at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health; Dr. Priya Soni, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; and Dr. Mina Hakim, a pediatrics specialist at South Central Family Health Center, Los Angeles, California.
RSV is an extremely common winter virus that has been studied since the 50s. According to Dr. Hakim, cases of RSV tend to spike later in the winter—around January. The amount of RSV cases medical experts are seeing right now would not be unusual later in the season; however, the early spike is “alarming.”
Dr. Hakim and other medical professionals worry that the high case count now may indicate an even worse surge later this year. Hospitals are already seeing a high number of children with respiratory illnesses coming in, and beds in ICUs (Intensive Care Units) across the country are running short. Holiday travel could also further spread the virus.
On the optimistic side, Dr. Hakim said it’s possible that this is just a very early season spike, and that RSV cases will soon begin to decline.
Dr. Soni said that RSV has a “predictable seasonality.” She thinks the reason for the high case count early in the season may be related to isolation caused by the pandemic. She thinks the period of online school limited many children’s exposure to common viruses and and potentially weakened their immune systems.
RSV tends to cause cold-like symptoms. With a hospitalization rate of up to 2%, infants younger than 6 months are at the highest risk of being seriously affected by the disease. Mucus build-up caused by the infection can make it difficult or impossible for these infants to breathe. Other populations at risk include the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or other respiratory conditions. According to the panel, RSV predominantly affects Hispanic people and Native Americans.
People concerned about the virus should keep a direct line of communication with their doctor and/or pediatrician. The panel encouraged people to get their flu shot and covid booster and stressed the importance of hand washing. “Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” said Dr. Hakim. RSV lives on surfaces for a longer period than most other viruses, so handwashing and cleaning commonly touched surfaces can help minimize the spread.
Medical experts are also urging parents to keep their children home from school if they are sick and to minimize their exposure to large crowds, during the surge of RSV, the flu and COVID-19. Health professionals are also encouraging people to get their boosters and the flu shot.
The CDC offers information on RSV symptoms and care, infants and children and transmission of the virus.
Benjamin Neufeld is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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