It’s easy to focus on COVID-19 and the looming threat of the Delta Variant when it comes to protecting our children from sickness; however, it is not the only danger they face from potentially harmful viruses. According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), cases involving non-COVID-19 respiratory viruses including the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) among children ages 0-9 are on the rise. RSV is a terrible upper respiratory virus marked by very thick mucus. For adults, RSV is normally just a bad cold, but for babies, especially premature babies, the congestion, runny nose, and mucus associated with RSV could have potentially harmful effects.
“The younger you are, the more at risk you are for complications,” said board certified pediatrician, Joseph A. Baust Jr., MD, FAAP of TPMG James River Pediatrics. For newborns who haven’t received all their vaccinations, viruses like COVID-19 and RSV could potentially leave them weak and vulnerable to developing bacterial pneumonia and other infections. RSV in particular can be harmful for infants because their lungs are less developed and their bodies aren’t strong enough yet to fight off the buildup of mucus, which can make it difficult to breathe. According the CDC, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia for children younger than 1 year of age.
Typically, pediatricians see RSV infections during the fall and winter time, which makes the current rise in RSV during the summer months unusual. In the winter of 2020 the amount of patients with RSV and even Influenza were down in the area, possibly as a result of masks, handwashing, and other protective measures. By the summer of 2021, as people begin to relax certain measures due to the rollout of vaccines, the viruses like RSV that were previously lying dormant are now active. During the week of August 15-21 alone, 9 percent of emergency department visits among children aged 0 to 4 years in Virginia were diagnosed with RSV, according to the VDH.
Although the threat of RSV for children is serious, parents cannot let it stop them from living their lives with their children. Fortunately, many of the ways we protect ourselves from COVID-19 and the Delta Variant are also ways to protect our children from RSV. Wear masks and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Make sure you wash your hands and your child’s hands, clean surfaces thoroughly, and keep on the lookout for symptoms of RSV.
RSV can present like a run-of-the-mill cold at first, with cough and congestion, but if your see these symptoms worsen it may be time to start thinking about seeing a doctor. If, over the course of two or three days, your child’s cough worsens, congestion thickens, appetite diminishes, or they run a fever for more than two days, these are signs it may be more serious. Younger babies and infants might not want to nurse, due to a buildup of mucus in the nose making it hard to breathe. These are all signs you should probably consult a physician. Seek medical attention at a hospital if you notice your child has difficulty breathing.
“I’m a big believer in parent’s intuition,” said Dr. Baust. If you suspect something is wrong with your child, trust your intuition and consult with a pediatrician. Schedule an appointment with a TPMG pediatrician today to learn more about RSV and other harmful viruses.
Joseph A. Baust Jr., MD, FAAP, is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Baust practices at TPMG James River Pediatrics in Newport News with Dr. Carol Steiner and Lee Gotthardt, FNP-C, where they offer complete medical service to infants, children and young adults to the age of 21 years. To schedule an appointment at TPMG James River Pediatrics or for further information, call (757) 595-3570.