• February 8th, 2023
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Record Numbers of Children Are Being Hospitalized for RSV


Dr. Edwin Asturias


Respiratory season came early this year, with record-breaking numbers of children being affected. Households, clinics and hospital emergency rooms are getting hit hard with a heavy dose of respiratory syncytial virus (better known as RSV), influenza has returned to Colorado, and COVID-19 numbers are rising. The wave of infections is not showing signs of letting up. It’s important for all of us to be aware of this unusual respiratory season, and to take action to protect our most vulnerable community members.


RSV is a common virus that strikes each year, that affects most kids before they turn 2. Older kids and adults get it, too, but because the airways in young children’s lungs are so small, they can face more severe symptoms and even hospitalization.


In October, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported the highest rates of pediatric RSV hospitalizations in the last five years and admissions continue to increase. Over 40% of all respiratory tests at our hospital, including inpatient, outpatient and emergency care, are positive for RSV. At the same time, the test positivity rate for COVID-19 in Colorado is up 9%. This surge in respiratory illnesses is not unique to our state: pediatric healthcare systems nationwide are experiencing a record number of RSV admissions. We are thankful for our state and local leaders, other hospitals, and primary care providers who have stepped up to do their part and offered help where they can.


It’s crucial for everyone to take proactive measures to prevent kids from getting sick.


Healthy adults can get RSV, but it will likely seem to them like they have a cold. Without awareness of RSV, they can spread the virus to kids, including babies and young children with underlying medical conditions that make them vulnerable to pneumonia and bronchiolitis (which is a condition affecting the small airways in the lungs which become inflamed and blocked with secretions).


It’s crucial for everyone to take proactive measures to prevent kids from getting sick.


These measures are not hard to do. Remember to wash your hands frequently, stay home when you’re sick, cover your cough and wear masks when you’re out in crowded places if you’re showing symptoms. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s also helpful to know the signs of RSV in your child.


Call your pediatrician if your child has a high fever and ill appearance, though not all children with RSV experience fever. Also watch for worsening cough, wheezing, signs of dehydration, unusual irritability or inactivity, or refusing to nurse or bottle feed.


If your child is having trouble breathing (fast breathing, labored breathing using extra muscles to breathe, blue lips), take them to the hospital immediately.


If your child is not having difficulty breathing, you will most likely care for them at home once you have contacted your pediatrician. At-home care may include giving a fever reducer like Tylenol, making sure they rest and drink plenty of fluids, and suctioning babies’ nasal secretions with a bulb or nasal aspirator. You can encourage older kids to blow their own nose, too. To aid in breathing, using a humidifier to moisten the air and a warm shower or bath can help loosen mucus and open the airways. For kids 6 months of age and older, influenza and COVID-19 vaccines are recommended to help prevent severe illness.


Because RSV, influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, it can be challenging to know which virus a child has. You can bookmark this Children’s Hospital Colorado guide to respiratory viruses to hear what pediatric experts are saying, help figure out what kids have at any given time, and learn what you can do to help them recover.


If we all do our part, we can help protect Colorado kids during what we expect will continue to be an unpredictable, but likely severe respiratory season.


Edwin Asturias, MD, is a pediatric infectious disease expert at Children’s Hospital Colorado.


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