About two million children get respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) each year in the United States. For most of these children, RSV is just another respiratory illness, like the cold or the flu. For some, however, it is serious. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children.
RSV is the main reason for hospitalization for babies under 6 months — and this year, it is surging beyond normal rates. Many states are seeing higher rates than usual for this time of year, including Arkansas, and some regions are already facing capacity issues at hospitals.
Some experts are suggesting that it’s a result of the pandemic.
How COVID-19 might have affected RSV rates
The current cadre of children aged two and under were born during the pandemic. They have been carefully shielded from contagious diseases. Their homes have been sanitized. They’ve been wearing masks, washing their hands, and keeping their social distance. This can mean that their immune systems haven’t had the usual amount of practice with getting and fending off infections.
Whereas most children have already had at least one case of RSV by age two, the pandemic babies may just now be encountering the disease as families relax COVID-era restrictions. This can mean that they will be more susceptible to the virus.
How to avoid RSV
There is no vaccine for RSV. However, the same precautions that kept the number of cases of RSV down for the first years of the pandemic can help keep cases down this year as well.
- Keep babies away from people who have respiratory virus symptoms.
- Wash and sanitize high-touch surfaces in your home and childcare spaces. The RSV virus can live for several hours as droplets on a counter or a toy.
- Consider continuing to use social distancing and masks if you cannot avoid crowded indoor situations.
- Check with your pediatrician if your baby shows signs of RSV:
- sore throat
- loss of appetite
- Since having RSV along with flu or COVID-19 is a special concern, be sure to get the vaccinations for flu and COVID-19, which are available now.