CLEVELAND (WJW) — Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff, MD, met with other health professionals Monday to talk about respiratory illnesses in children, specifically the uptick in RSV cases in young children.
Michael Forbes, MD, who is a Pediatric Intensive Care Specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital, joined Vanderhoff and offered some insight into the recent rise in RSV cases, why there’s a spike and what can be done to prevent it.
WHAT IS RSV
RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus, which is a highly contagious seasonal virus that targets the lungs. It typically shows up in young children each winter with what Dr. Forbes calls the gang of viruses – flu, paraflu, rhino and RSV – during the cold and flu season.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK FOR RSV
Dr. Forbes says pretty much everyone’s been infected with RSV by the age of 2, but there’s a high risk group who is vulnerable – babies born prematurely and babies born with certain heart and lung conditions.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO PREVENT AN RSV INFECTION IN THEIR YOUNG CHILD
Dr. Forbes says to continue doing what you’ve been doing throughout the pandemic; wash your hands, physically distance and wear a mask.
He compares last year’s low flu rate to last year’s low RSV rate saying it wasn’t a vaccine that caused the low rate, but the masking; since there is a flu vaccine but not an RSV vaccine.
“There is no RSV vaccine,” Forbes said, “and we almost eliminated RSV in many hospitals last year. So it wasn’t the vaccine, it was the masking.”
WHY IS RSV ON THE RISE DURING THE SUMMER WHEN IT’S TYPICALLY A WINTER VIRUS
Right now, Dr. Forbes says, we don’t know. But he says it’s important to look at infection rates from year to year, understanding that the previous year’s RSV season does create some kind of background immunity for the next season.
“We also know that the masking and all the toolkit actions that we took really works,” he said. “What we have this year are a group of children who have no background immunity (from last year).”
He explains that once restraints were lifted and people began to interact again, because they were vaccinated against COVID, a spike in COVID cases didn’t happen right away. Instead health professionals saw what was in the background and that was RSV.
“Now we have an RSV spike in the middle of the summer which is unusual,” he said. “We’re usually less than 1 percent positivity rate at this time of the year (but now) we’ve been as high as 40 percent.”