What You Need to Know About RSV Right Now

Chicago Infection Control Doctor says it could be a long winter ahead for parents.

Josie Rhea knows exactly how quickly RSV can happen and how dangerous it can be.

The Chicago mom of three was at her 2-year-old son’s bedside at a Chicago hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit watching him struggle to breathe.

Helpless. That’s how she says she feels.

But Rhea is far from alone.

The number of RSV cases have been surging for weeks and now Chicago hospitals are seeing rising cases of flu and COVID-19, says Dr. Colleen Nash, associate professor for the Department of Pediatrics at Rush Medical College and Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center.

While she says she’s hoping that RSV cases have peaked, she believes hospitals and medical teams are going to be busy. “I think we have a long winter ahead. I’m preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Nash believes parents are doing the best they can given the situation. They can’t avoid every virus.

But she says parents can take a few steps to help keep everyone healthy by preventing kids from sharing cups and swapping germs while they play, wiping down surfaces often, including door knobs and counters, and practicing lots and lots of handwashing, “more than you really have to do,” Nash says.

Also keep in mind that RSV sticks around on surfaces longer than other viruses.

Temporarily wearing a mask is always a good option, too, when around others with symptoms, she says.

As we head into the holidays and family gatherings, she says it’s never too late to get everyone their flu and COVID vaccines. If you haven’t gotten them yet, do it now, she says.

Plus she recommends everyone be open about any symptoms of illness they might be experiencing to prevent infections from spreading throughout the gathering. Then come up with a Plan B if someone is sick.

RSV hitting hard

RSV, a common childhood illness, is hitting otherwise healthy kids, Nash says.

It happened so quickly in Rhea’s family.

Rhea’s 5-year-old had a runny nose and sore throat last Wednesday, the next day her 2-year-old became fussy and just wanted to be held. By Friday morning, his face was covered in mucus, she says. When she called her pediatrician, the office assured her it was a virus that would go away in about five days.

By Monday, her 5-year-old was perfectly back to normal, but her 2-year-old still had a fever and Rhea says she noticed he was very winded. “He was throwing himself on the floor and panting heavily,” she says.

She immediately got into the pediatrician who sent them directly to the ER. By Tuesday morning, the oxygen wasn’t enough to help so a bypass machine was brought in to help him breathe, she says.

“If he doesn’t get better they will have to totally sedate him until the bypass starts working at whatever level they deem appropriate. I’m a mess. The other two babies are heavily on my mind as I wasn’t with them last night,” she says Tuesday.

Her advice to other parents with kids who seem to be coming down with something: “Get the kids an e-visit. There’s so much work that has gone into telemedicine, it’s best to do a virtual visit before bringing a baby into hospital with more germs. Write everything down in terms of days and time frames.”

Nash says in many cases, RSV symptoms can be managed at home. However, parents should be on the alert for signs that it might be becoming an emergency. Take off their shirt to monitor how hard they are breathing, looking between their ribs and at the muscles in their neck to gauge how hard they are working for air, she suggests.

Other RSV signs:

  • Skin, lips or fingernails that turn gray or bluish in color
  • Sudden decrease in alertness or activity level
  • Sustained high fever (higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit for infants younger than 3 months or higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit for older children) not resolving with over-the-counter medications
  • Not waking up to eat

Lastly, she says, parents should trust medical advice. Hospital staff are doing everything they can to help kids get better, she says.

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