RSV cases ‘rising rapidly’ in Utah, doctor says; they encourage preventive measures
The RSV surge is coming earlier than usual this year in Utah, reaching record numbers of cases at some hospitals across the country, according to a primary care physician at Children’s Hospital. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY – Utah doctors are preparing for a bad RSV season, and Dr. Andrew Pavia says respiratory syncytial virus is “here and growing rapidly”.
The RSV outbreak is coming earlier than usual this year and is reaching record levels in some hospitals across the country, said Pavia, who specializes in infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and Primary Children’s Hospital.
He said there are usually RSV outbreaks in December and January that are considered “moderately severe” and bring very sick children to hospitals. This year, however, the RSV outbreak appears to be even more serious.
Concerns about RSV have been heightened by what has been called a “triple demy” — a term Pavia coined to describe three viruses striking at once. In this case, those viruses are RSV, COVID-19, and influenza.
“When viruses hit all at once, it can really overwhelm the capacity that’s set up to handle the onslaught,” Pavia said.
He said there is always a lot of flu activity in Utah. And while it’s not yet at dangerous levels in the state this year, it’s at dangerous levels in some southern states and doctors are worried about a rapid increase in the next few weeks. Pavia said Utah also saw a slight increase in numbers COVID-19 of cases, and although it is unpredictable, there is concern about an increase in cases during the winter season.
But Pavia says there are currently good vaccines for both COVID-19 and the flu.
“People can still get infected after vaccination, but it’s your best way to prevent you or your children (from) ending up in the hospital or getting sick,” he said.
RSV right now there is no vaccine, so to fight RSV, Pavia said people should rely on “old-fashioned but effective preventive measures” such as keeping infants away from sick people, wearing a mask, covering coughs or sneezes and washing hands .
“As we enter a season where we’re going to see a lot of viral illnesses — and some of them have the potential to be quite severe — I think it’s important for parents to remember that prevention is a tool that we really have, and that you can use,” Pavia said.
Preventative measures can help keep infants and families healthy, especially as emergency departments and doctors can be overwhelmed by the influx of cases.
It is important for parents to remember that prevention is a tool that we really have and that you can use.
-Dr. Andrew Pavia, an infectious disease specialist
Most children with RSV can be treated by a pediatrician, but Pavia said parents should look for signs of dehydration and difficulty breathing when considering whether to take a child to the emergency room. He said RSV symptoms can prevent children from eating and drinking because of secretions in their small airways.
“You’ll notice fewer wet diapers and difficulty taking a bottle or eating — and when that happens, it’s time to see a doctor. If the child is lethargic, if he’s not urinating at all, you probably need to go straight to the emergency room,” Pavia said. .
He said breathing difficulties in young children can be seen through rapid breathing, signs of difficulty breathing, blue lips or fingers, or severe lethargy.
Pavia said doctors are on the verge of multiple effective RSV preventative measures that could be available starting next year. Some examples include an RSV vaccine for older people who can also be severely affected by the virus, successful research on vaccinated mothers passing on RSV protection to their babies, and long-acting monoclonal antibodies that could protect children during the winter.
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