LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — An unseasonable rise in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in children has Lexington pediatricians worried as the Delta variant fuels a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually manifests like a mild cold in adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Hawse with Commonwealth Pediatrics said the disease causes the airways to swell. Adults will normally recover in a couple of weeks, but it can lead to more serious illnesses in children, especially those under the age of 2.
“Little babies have very, very tiny airways. They get that same amount of swelling and it almost blocks their airway and then they can’t move air in and out. Then their oxygen levels drop,” Dr. Hawse said.
Symptoms for RSV include runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing.
In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory warning of a spike in RSV infections in the Southern United States.
“It’s unusual because it’s unusual this time of year,” Dr. Hawse said. “This is something we normally see during what we would call flu season.”
Dr. Hawse said her office has been incredibly busy since the summer began and they started noticing an increase in respiratory infections like RSV.
Dr. Jai Gilliam with Baptist Health Lexington said he is treating an average of three to four children with RSV every week.
“Last year, at least at this clinic, we did not see one episode of flu or RSV,” Dr. Gilliam said.
The pediatricians said more incidents of RSV statistically result in more children hospitalized with it.
Dr. Hawse said that’s even more concerning at a time when a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state means fewer hospital beds are available.
“You have all the normal reasons why children are hospitalized that we would need a bed for and we won’t have enough beds if kids are occupying them with COVID-19 and RSV,” she explained.
RSV and COVID-19 both spread through respiratory droplets.
The health measures put in place because of the pandemic helped reduce RSV infections in 2020, according to Dr. Gilliam.
“So continuing to wear a mask indoors, hand washing before you touch your face or your baby’s face, cleaning surfaces, all those can help,” Dr. Gillam said.