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RSV and kids: Beacon Children’s medical director talks about uptick, ways you can keep your family healthy

RSV infections are increasing across the country, including here in our region. We sat down with Dr. Kate Dutkiewicz, Beacon Children’s Hospital medical director, to talk about the recent uptick in pediatric RSV cases and hospitalizations and explain how this year is the same or different from previous years. Here’s what you need to know about RSV, the common wintertime respiratory virus that can be dangerous for babies, as well as older adults with chronic medical conditions.

Dr. Kate Dutkiewicz

How much RSV are we seeing among kids in our hospitals?

We’re seeing a lot of RSV right now. The number of cases started increasing in the last three weeks. About 15 to 20 percent of the kids we’re admitting are RSV-positive, especially in newborns through 6-month-old babies, and in toddlers up to about 3 years old who have underlying problems like asthma.

Is this typical for November?

What we’re seeing right now is not out of the ordinary, it’s typical for the season. We normally see a spike from October through March.

What are signs and symptoms of RSV?

Initial symptoms are like any cold virus and include nasal congestion, cough and fever. The virus invades the lower airways and causes significant inflammation and mucus production over several days. Young infants, as well as older people with underlying respiratory conditions like asthma, also experience faster and harder breathing.

How does RSV spread?

All respiratory viruses are spread by contact with people who are infected and can be spread by aerosolized virus particles – coughing and sneezing – or through saliva, phlegm and nasal mucus secretions.

Why do some kids require hospitalization?

Sometimes patients need support because of their severity of their symptoms. Patients are admitted for respiratory support, including oxygen, sometime needing a ventilator, and feeding or fluid support. Young infants, particularly those born prematurely, are most susceptible to serious illness with RSV.

How long are these children typically in the hospital?

The average length of hospitalization is two to three days on the low end, on up to seven days on the long end for those who are the sickest. The typical timeframe for hospital care is four to seven days of illness – when the peak of the symptoms occurs – and then patients gradually improve.

How can people you and old avoid getting RSV?

As we saw with COVID, extreme measures including complete isolation are effective in preventing infection, but they can be detrimental to one’s mental health and development. Less extreme but also effective measures include masking, staying home when you’re having symptoms, separating sick children from their newborn siblings and washing your hands frequently.

What is the RSV outlook for the rest of winter?

We expect it to stay like this through December. It might let up a little around the holidays, and then we could see another uptick in February and March. What can help protect loved ones during the peak RSV season is for expectant moms to receive the RSV vaccine during pregnancy and for babies to receive the RSV antibody.

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Learn more about RSV

RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S. More information about the symptoms of RSV and how to care for infants with the infection can be found here. To learn more about how to prevent RSV among babies and toddlers, as well as among older adults, and to find out whether you are at risk of getting sick, click here.

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No matter your need or age, our primary care doctors are here to treat your medical needs. If you’re looking for a new family doctor, Beacon Health System is here to serve you. Click here to find a physician.

About Heidi Prescott

Passionate about writing her whole life, Heidi Prescott joined Beacon Health System in 2015 and currently serves as Senior Media Relations Strategist. A former newspaper journalist who has experience in TV, radio, magazines and social media, Heidi loves storytelling, photography and spending time in nature.