In the fall, rates of viral respiratory illnesses are much higher among children, and may be especially high this year with the full-time return to in-person learning following pandemic lockdowns.
One common illness, respiratory syncytial virus, is reportedly having an earlier spike than usual. However, so far in Oregon, the virus’s activity is not higher than Oregon Health & Science University clinicians expected, according to a press release.
In Clark County, between Sept. 1 and Oct. 26, there were 56 emergency department visits for suspected RSV cases, according to Clark County Public Health data. Of those, 80 percent were children younger than 5, and 38 percent were infants younger than a year.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that most children will have had by age 2. The virus typically causes mild, coldlike symptoms, though it can be serious, especially for infants and older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In more serious cases, the virus can cause pneumonia and impede breathing in infants by inflaming their airways.
Symptoms of RSV typically appear within four to six days after infection, according to Oregon Health & Science University. Typical symptoms include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, decrease in appetite and fever. More serious symptoms that may indicate a need for medical care include trouble breathing, wheezing or lethargy.
While most viral respiratory illnesses do not result in hospitalizations, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital has reported a higher number of children requiring admission to hospitals in Oregon, a trend it has seen across the country, according to the press release.
“Any time that you’re worried that your baby is looking like they’re breathing faster than they would normally, you should call your pediatrician or seek care,” said Dr. Wendy Hasson, medical director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. “I always counsel that if a parent is concerned, that they know their baby best and that they should seek advice as to whether or not further medical treatment is needed.”
To stay healthy and reduce the spread of infection, health officials recommend frequent handwashing with soap and water, disinfecting surfaces, avoiding contact with those who are sick and staying up to date on all routine vaccinations.
“The other thing parents can do is prevent other non-RSV illnesses that would also require children to use the medical system,” Hasson said. “Ways to do that would be to make sure that children are up to date on their childhood immunization series and that includes children greater than 6 months of age getting their first flu vaccine and also getting their COVID vaccines.”
While there is no vaccine for RSV, studies are being conducted showing success in vaccinating pregnant people to protect their newborns against the virus.