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Valley Children’s sees an uptick in RSV and other respiratory infections

An infant sleeping.
Carlo Navarro
RSV is a respiratory virus produces cold-like symptoms and is most dangerous for infants and elderly people.

Cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, are on the rise across the country — including in the San Joaquin Valley.

RSV is a common virus, but severe cases can be life-threatening for infants and the elderly. Symptoms are similar to the common cold, including runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

Hospitals across the country have been overwhelmed by a rash of cases appearing earlier in the season than is typical.

Dr. Nael Mhaissen is the Medical Director of Infectious Diseases and Infection Prevention at Valley Children’s Healthcare. He says the hospital in Madera is not at capacity, but has seen a significant uptick in the number of RSV cases.

“Our number of visits to the emergency department has increased significantly over the past couple of months for respiratory viruses and cold symptoms in general,” Mhaissen said. “Some of these patients unfortunately are requiring hospital admission or even ICU admission because of the severity of their symptoms.”

RSV has surged among children at a time when medical officials are warning against a “twindemic,” or a surge in COVID-19 and flu cases during the winter months. Cases of RSV tend to peak between October and March. But in the last two years Mhaissen says cases have peaked as early as summer, something he attributes to the pandemic.

“[The pandemic] affected when kids are in school, out of school, how often they interact and that actually changed the seasonality of the virus and that is why it took some of the doctors and healthcare workers by surprise,” Mhaissen said.

Severe cases are most likely to occur in children younger than two years. Those with risk factors, such as babies born prematurely or with conditions including congenital heart disease, are the most susceptible.

There is no vaccine for RSV, but parents of vulnerable children have recourse. There is a monthly injection which helps prevent severe RSV infections.

To avoid impacted emergency departments, parents with sick children should evaluate their child’s symptoms. Children who are well-hydrated and not showing signs of fatigue can probably be treated at home in consultation with a primary care doctor, says Dr. Mhaissen.

Little ones who are having trouble breathing, have a fever that won’t break, are exhibiting lethargy or are dehydrated should be taken to a hospital.

A Valley native, Elizabeth earned her bachelor's degree in English Language Literatures from the University of California, Santa Cruz and her master's degree in journalism from New York University. She has covered a range of beats. Her agriculture reporting for the Turlock Journal earned her a first place award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. While in graduate school she covered the New Hampshire Primary for NBC Owned Television Stations and subsequently worked as a television ratings analyst for the company's business news network, CNBC. Upon returning to California, her role as a higher education public relations professional reconnected her to the Valley's media scene. She is happy to be back to her journalism roots as a local host at KVPR.