Arizona’s RSV season has arrived along with sniffles, coughs and fevers.
RSV — respiratory syncytial virus — can infect the lungs and breathing airways, said Marti Reich, infection prevention nurse at Cardon Children’s Medical Center at Mesa’s Banner Desert. People of all ages may get RSV, which may look like a common cold. But for young children — and especially infants — it can cause serious problems.
Some East Valley hospitals say they are starting to see more RSV patients admitted or in emergency departments. RSV shows up this time each year. It is a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics. There is no vaccine for it.
“Usually the child starts with a runny nose and is irritable. They get stuffed up and a sore throat. In a day or two, they run a fever and have respiratory distress,” Reich said. “If their airways are big enough they may just stop with the fever and being stuffed up, but if they’re small they may get in trouble. They breathe too fast. They breathe too hard. They don’t get enough oxygen.”
According to the state Department of Health Services, which tracks weekly lab-confirmed RSV cases, children 1 year old and younger make up the largest group of confirmed patients. Statewide, this year’s lab-confirmed RSV cases are below last year’s numbers.
Most children and older adults get through RSV well with supportive care — lots of fluids and rest. But when the very young get into trouble, they may be hospitalized, Reich said. Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, which has a 22-bed pediatric unit, has seen a rise in RSV patients in the last few weeks, said Deanna Grey, nursing director of the pediatric and adolescent department.
“The majority of our patients are admitted for respiratory (issues) and specifically to rule out RSV,” she said. “(But) we are seeing quite a few positive RSVs that are being admitted.”
Some of the increase compared with last year may be that the community is becoming more aware of the pediatric unit at the hospital, which has only been open two years, she said.
Many of the admitted RSV patients are 2 years old and younger. They stay about three days, she said.
Dr. Judy Messer, medical director for the emergency department at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, said RSV season typically arrives the end of December or beginning of January and will last through about March.
“It coincides with the traditional flu season,” she said. “The winter months tend to be the worst.”
Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa has 120 beds. As of Monday, 102 of them were full and about half of those patients had some type of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, respiratory distress, RSV or bronchiolitis, an infection of the airways, Reich said. The No. 1 cause of bronochiolitis is RSV.
The children’s hospital opened a new facility last fall with more beds to treat patients.
Patients who need hospitalization may require oxygen or an IV for hydration if they’ve not been able to eat or drink well because of struggles breathing. That is usually true for babies who nurse. If their noses are stuffed up, they may not nurse because they’re breathing out of their mouths, Messer said.
Children may also receive medication to keep fevers down, Banner’s Reich said.
“The goal is to support the child until they can handle the secretions,” or mucus buildup, in their breathing passages, she said.
Children with fevers should stay home to help stop the spread of illness, the medical community reminds parents.
“Most children recover beautifully from RSV with a little support,” Reich said.
Signs of respiratory distress
• Rapid breathing
• Retractions, when the skin between ribs sinks in when children breath in
• Nasal flaring
• In nursing babies, difficulty feeding combined with nasal congestion
Parents who see these signs in their children should seek medical assistance.
Source: Dr. Judy Messer, medical director for the emergency department at Gilbert Mercy Medical Center