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Early cases of RSV in children cause concern for pediatricians

RSV season
RSV season(WBAY)
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 4:46 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2021 at 6:00 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in children across the nation, there’s another well-known virus off to an unseasonably early start and already putting kids in the hospital.

Doctors in Northeast Wisconsin are already seeing cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV.

“It’s the most common reason for an admission to the hospital for children in the country,” said Dr. Donald Beno, a pediatrician at Aurora BayCare Medical Center.

RSV is like a bad cold for most kids with symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, cough, and wheezing. However, for some babies less than a year old - especially preemies or those with compromised immune systems or heart defects- it can be deadly.

“An infant’s airways are much smaller. The way I described RSV to parents is this is a disease of snot,” said Dr. Beno. “When those thick, sticky secretions plug your airways, they can cause a collapse of certain parts of your lung, leading to not being able to get oxygen.”

“The hardest part is this is happening in the season where it doesn’t belong. So it’s not necessarily always being recognized,” said Dr. Beno who is trying to put it on parents’ radar early this year.

Aurora BayCare Medical Center has seen its RSV positivity rate go up at a rate only seen in peak season around November/December.

“Typically, around this time of year, it’s zero. We do not see RSV at this time. In my 20 plus year career, I’ve never seen it at this time. I have already admitted four kids to Aurora BayCare,” said Dr. Beno.

This unseasonably early start is concerning for Dr. Beno because if doctors are already seeing it, he ‘doesn’t know what the peak is going to be like.

RELATED: Doctors see increase in respiratory virus harmful for babies

Plus, the early start doesn’t allow much time for doctors to provide those at most risk with preventive medicine.

“Synagis is the name of that injection and it’s very expensive for monoclonal antibodies to help prevent those extremely high risk (kids) from getting sick. It starts at about $2,000, a month per dose,” said Dr. Beno. “But because … this is not the season where this illness happens, they’re not protected as well.”

During the pandemic, babies weren’t exposed to a lot due to social distancing and masking. Now that restrictions are waning, Dr. Beno said their immune systems are being exposed to a lot all at once.

“At this moment in time, if you have a common cold, it’s probably either RSV or COVID, and so certainly be cautious in watching for distress and watching for trouble breathing is extremely important,” said Dr. Beno. “The first thing to watch for is trouble breathing. You are going to notice that the child’s respirations are going much faster.”

RELATED: How to tell the difference between RSV and COVID-19

While researchers continue to work toward an RSV vaccine, Dr. Beno said the best way to protect all infants from RSV is to mask up, wash your hands, keep your distance and stay away if sick.

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