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What’s Behind the Rise of RSV in Children

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By Dr. Rishma Chand


RSV is very common virus that predominantly occurs in the late fall/winter time. It is spreads just like a common cold, with an infected person spreading to another person by direct person to person contact from saliva or from nasal discharge or from unclean surfaces. Almost all children will get RSV at least once before they are two years old. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were fewer cases of RSV and other respiratory illnesses in 2020, as many babies and toddlers weren’t exposed to the illness. However, once mitigation measures were relaxed with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, there was an unusual rise of RSV in spring season of 2021. This unseasonal increase continued this year with an unusually high amount of cases this summer going into fall. This has caused unusually high number of cases of not only RSV but other respiratory illnesses in pediatrics such as influenza and COVID-19.


Symptoms appear two to eight days after contact with RSV and peak around day three to five of illness. 

RSV causes symptoms of the common cold In most people.  These symptoms could include fever, running nose or cough and usually resolve with supportive care at home. 

In certain high risk patient populations such as premature babies, young infants and toddlers, children with chronic lung disease, asthma or those with immunodeficiency , the symptoms can more serious. 

The symptoms can start off mild like a common cold  but can rapidly progress to a more severe presentation. These more serious symptoms include wheezing, apnea (pause of breaths, or change in breathing pattern), bluish skin color and respiratory distress (which can present with grunting, breathing fast, nasal flaring, head bobbing or belly breathing)/



Most of the symptoms of RSV can be cared for at home. For fever and pain, you can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen (six months or older). Nasal functioning and cool mist humidifiers are also very helpful. 

If your child is having any respiratory distress or trouble breathing, decreased feeding, decreased urine output/wet diapers, change in skin color or  lethargy, please bring your child into the emergency room.


Wearing a mask, hand washing,  cleaning frequently touched surfaces and staying away from anyone who is sick are good ways to stay healthy. There is no vaccine available at this time.

Dr. Rishma Chand is a  Pediatric Intensivist with Dignity Health Northridge Hospital.


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