A growing number of children are showing up at Sonoma County hospitals with a respiratory virus that is especially dangerous for those under 2, worrying local doctors.
Providence Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital reports that 222 young children complained of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory viruses from Oct. 15 to Oct. 31, compared to 59 during the same period last year, according to a spokesperson.
At Sonoma Valley Hospital in Sonoma, four children ages 11 months to 3 years have been hospitalized in the past two months, compared to two throughout last year.
Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said that because there was no requirement for hospitals to report RSV cases, she could not estimate how many cases the county has. seen so far.
Dr. Gary Green, a local infectious disease expert who works at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, says he’s noticed the county is seeing an unusually high number of RSV cases — albeit few hospitalizations — especially given the the time of year. The RSV season typically lasts 18 to 21 weeks, from fall to spring, and typically peaks in late December.
At the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, about 34% of RSV tests come back positive, Green said.
“It’s an extraordinarily high amount, especially at the start of the season,” he said. “It’s about twice as usual, but the public is kinda sleeping on it right now.”
RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. It is most dangerous in children and adults 65 and older with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.
This year, however, it is particularly prevalent among young children, forcing children’s hospitals on the East Coast to quickly fill to capacity.
At Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, more than 100 children with RSV presented during a recent 10-day period, many of whom required intensive care and oxygen therapy.
“I’ve been at Connecticut Children’s for 25 years, and I’ve never seen this level of flare – especially RSV – enter our hospital,” said Dr. Juan Salazar, executive vice president and chief medical officer at CNN. . .
Green said several factors could explain this increase on the East Coast, including cold and rainy weather, children returning to school as well as people spending more time indoors and being less proactive about masking and other preventive measures.
Discovered in 1956, RSV is one of the most common causes of childhood illnesses. Almost everyone gets RSV before the age of 2, but older children and adults tend to have milder cases because previous infection creates a helpful immune response.
“Because they have smaller airways, RSV is more dangerous for infants – especially premature babies, those under 2 months old and those with certain chronic lung conditions,” said pediatrician Dr Jerome Smith. at SVH, adding that all infants who contract the virus have severe cases.
The virus – like the flu, COVID-19 and the common cold – is transmitted through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of infected people when they cough and sneeze.
Infections begin with a runny nose and progress to thick nasal secretions. This can sometimes cause tightness in the smaller branches of the lungs, with wheezing and even respiratory distress.
“Symptoms also include decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing and fever,” Mase said. “These symptoms usually come in stages, not all at once. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing.
Incubation takes two to eight days, and once an infection occurs, the ability to infect others typically lasts three to eight days, although it can be longer. Most infections go away within a week or two.
Smith advises anyone with labored breathing or respiratory distress to be assessed, adding that in severe cases, oxygen and other supportive treatment and monitoring can be provided in a hospital.
Most hospital emergency rooms and many doctors’ offices can test for RSV, which takes as little as 10 minutes, like rapid COVID and flu tests.
Smith says those who contract the virus should stay home to recover.
“Like any respiratory disease, staying well hydrated and using measures to keep your nasal passages clear can help loosen mucus and make breathing easier,” he says.
These measures include the use of saline drops and sprays with suction for young children and cool mist humidifiers and short periods in a humid bathroom for others. Smith advises people to also watch for signs of more severe respiratory distress, which may require emergency care.
Protective measures to avoid contracting RSV include frequent hand washing and masking around people who are coughing.
“There is currently no vaccine for RSV and there is no specific treatment for RSV, but preventing and limiting the spread – especially in high-risk infants, the elderly and immunocompromised people – are something anyone can do,” Smith said.
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