Hospitals See Dangerous Spike in Respiratory Syncytial Virus in Babies

January 14, 2020

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is quite common, usually causing mild cold-like symptoms. But Fox 8 of Cleveland reports that some hospitals are reporting higher than usual RSV cases in young children. The Cleveland Clinic is one of the hospitals seeing a rise in RSV, as reported by WKYC, the NBC affiliate in Cleveland. In addition, Erik Martin, the chief nursing officer at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, tells Fox 8 that he’s also seen a significant rise in RSV. 

“In the last four months, Norton Children’s Hospital has diagnosed more than 800 cases,” Martin said. “During the same time period a year ago, we had fewer than 300. We also had positive RSV tests throughout the summer. That’s rather uncommon as during a typical summer we can go weeks without a confirmed case.”

Edith Bracho-Sanchez, MD, a primary care pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, said that RSV cases have spiked there as well. 

Just how serious the problem is cannot be precisely pinpointed because the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not track data on cases, hospitalizations, or deaths caused by RSV. However, the CDC does say that RSV “can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.” RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States. 

CDC spokesman Scott Pauley told the Fox 8 that “the season for RSV in the U.S. runs fall, winter, and spring. We can’t say if it has peaked for several reasons—first, this season isn’t over yet (since we just started winter); second, NREVSS [the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System] doesn’t track actual cases, it collects laboratory results; finally reporting delays happen for some labs so the data on those charts may change.”

Patricia Emmanuel, MD, chair of pediatrics at USF Health in Tampa, told Fox 8 that “two of the main reasons why babies get admitted to the hospital is either because their oxygen is low—they can’t keep up the oxygen level—or they're getting dehydrated.”

Other symptoms to look for include difficult breathing, fever in a baby who is younger than 2 months, a fever that lasts for 3 days or longer, or fever that doesn’t respond to fever-fighting medication.