GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Cases of the respiratory syncytial virus are much higher than what is typically seen this time of year, according to health officials at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that typically causes mild symptoms similar to those of a common cold. While most people recover within a couple of weeks, it can be more serious for infants and older adults.
“This is a very unique year because RSV came onto the scene in the summer which very, very rarely happens in the state of Michigan,” said Dr. Rosemary Olivero, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
As of Thursday, there were 21 infants in the hospital with RSV and all 21 of them were in the intensive care unit.
Olivero says the case numbers they’re seeing now are what they would see during a typical winter. This makes it almost impossible to know how long the RSV season will last or how bad it will be this year.
“(It) certainly is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shifts of the use of masks and how people are behaving in general,” Olivero said.
She added that the areas where they’re seeing the most spread are in places where lots of children are congregating together, like daycares or other group childcare settings. These are the places where it’s important to be more careful.
“If you’re reliant on daycare, daycares do as much as they absolutely can to prevent the spread of infections but there may be limits to what you can do as a parent in that situation,” said Olivero.
Children with underlying heart and lung diseases and those who are born very prematurely are at the highest risk for the virus.
Olivero recommends keeping infants away from anyone who is sick with any respiratory viral symptoms and avoid having your baby touch things that have been touched by other people or put in the mouths of other children.
There is a preventative medication called Synagis that can be given to those high-risk infants to help prevent serious lung diseases caused by the virus.
Olivero said it’s generally given to children in the winter but due to the unusual RSV season, the hospital has worked with insurance carriers to approve the use of the medicine now. She encourages parents to talk to their child’s doctor about getting an appointment set up.
Many of the health measures that prevent COVID-19 can also help prevent the spread of RSV. Since RSV is spread both through contact with droplets from infected people and through surfaces, Olivero said masks can be effective but handwashing is vital.