RSV is spreading at unusually high levels, flooding children’s hospitals


When Amber Sizemore and her family flew out of state to celebrate her birthday last week, she hoped little daughter Raegan would try her hand at swimming. But the 15-month-old, normally energetic and adventurous, was not himself on Saturday.

“He hated it, and he usually loves water,” Sizemore said.

By Sunday, when the family was returning to Ohio, the little girl was “coughing like crazy.”

“He coughed so hard, he threw up,” Sizemore said. Raegan also stopped eating and developed a fever.

When Tylenol didn’t help, Sizemore took her to urgent care and told them RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, a common cold-like virus, was going around at Raegan’s day care, where Sizemore also works.

The test was positive, and Raegan’s vital signs prompted the urgent care staff to tell Sizemore to take her daughter to the hospital.

As soon as they saw her vitals, the staff at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland knew they had to admit Raegan, her mother said. He needed oxygen.

“They’ve been good here and they’ve taken good care of him, but the scariest part is, if I didn’t already know he had RSV, I might have let him cough it up,” Sizemore said. “I’m glad I didn’t wait.”

There is now an “unprecedented” rise in RSV cases among US children, some doctors told CNN.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t track hospitalizations or deaths like it does for the flu, but it said Thursday that there has been an uptick in RSV cases in many parts of the country.

Several children’s hospitals told CNN they have been “overwhelmed” with patients at a time of year when there is an unusual spike in RSV patients.

With the rise of RSV, UH has Rainbow Babies he had so many patients, he was diverted for a couple of days in early October, meaning he couldn’t take outside emergency admissions. He is taking patients again now, but is still frustrated with RSV cases.

There has been such a dramatic increase in cases in Connecticut that Connecticut Children’s Hospital has been coordinating with the governor and public health commissioner on whether to call in the National Guard to expand its capacity to care for these young patients.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been at Connecticut Children’s for 25 years, and I’ve never seen this level of increase specifically for RSV come to our hospital,” Dr. Juan Salazar, the hospital’s executive vice president and chief medical officer, told CNN.

In Texas, where RSV cases tend to spike in December or January, the emergency department and its urgent care at Cook Children’s in Fort Worth are seeing a significant number of RSV cases. Nearly half of the ICU is full of RSV cases, hospital spokeswoman Kim Brown said; between October 2 and 8, there were 210 cases of RSV at Cook Children’s; a week later, there were 288.

Jeff and Zoey Green’s 4-month-old child, Lindy, was admitted to Cook on Sunday.

At the hospital, Lindy’s fever was so high that at one point they used ice packs to cool her down.

“I don’t know how, but she fell asleep on those ice packs,” said Zoey Green, carrying an exhausted Lindy at the hospital. She said they are trying to keep him hydrated so he doesn’t have to get an IV.

“We want it to be better, for sure.”

Dr. Mallory Davis, chief of infection prevention at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is also seeing an early rise.

“We’re very full, and our census numbers are pretty high because we’re trying to figure out how to accommodate all the sick kids in the community,” she said.

Children’s Hospital Colorado has seen an early rise in RSV hospitalizations and is starting to see the first flu cases of the season, said Dr. Kevin Messacar, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“We’ve had increased patient volumes since the end of the summer, starting with rhinoviruses and enteroviruses as kids went back to school, and now being driven by RSV and parainfluenza,” he said. “As the flu season appears to be very early, we are concerned that the volume of sick children requiring hospitalization continues to increase.”

At UH Rainbow Babies, staff hope things don’t get much worse. “I mean, I hope we’re peaking at this point, if not, holy hell,” said Dr. Amy Edwards, assistant director of pediatric infection control.

RSV cases can often overwhelm hospitals, even during regular seasons, because there aren’t many treatments available and severe cases can require several days of intensive care, Edwards said.

Sick children “need that oxygen support, so they can’t be at home,” she said.

Experts believe that cases in the US may increase due to the current stage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When everyone stayed home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in 2020 and 2021, the typical RSV season seemed to be changing. The number of cases was low, which created an “immunity gap”.

Children who would normally have caught the virus in those years are now catching it.

The CDC says that most children catch RSV before the age of 2. It is a highly contagious virus that often does not cause serious illness, except in adults who are elderly or have chronic heart or lung disease or a weakened immune system, and some infants and children.

There is no specific treatment for RSV and there is no vaccine. Symptoms usually last a week or two and clear up with plenty of fluids and rest.

For some children, however, it can be a more serious illness. According to the CDC, RSV can be dangerous to newborns, infants, children with weakened immune systems or neuromuscular disorders, and those younger than 2 years old.

RSV can develop into bronchiolitis, in which the small airways become inflamed and congested, or pneumonia. A child may need to stay in the hospital to receive supplemental oxygen or even mechanical ventilation to help them breathe.

An infected person can spread RSV by coughing or sneezing. If respiratory droplets land on a surface like a doorknob or a desk and someone else touches them and then touches their face, they can get sick.

It’s generally a mild illness where adults often don’t realize they have it, or think it’s just a cold or allergies and continue to interact with others.

“It’s not a debilitating virus like the flu or Covid, so you feel good,” Edwards said. “And then what happens is, your neighbor has this beautiful baby, and you bring a bowl, and you kiss that baby, because it makes you feel good. You don’t feel sick. And, unfortunately, you pass it on to them, and sometimes they end up in the hospital.”

Older siblings can also pass the virus on to younger siblings.

“Babies play with toys and each other and everything else, so it also goes through the day’s responsibilities,” Edwards said.

If your child has a cough or lethargy, or if they don’t seem like themselves, it’s a good idea to take them to the pediatrician. The doctor’s office will have tests to determine if it is RSV, the flu, Covid-19, or strep.

According to pediatricians, if the baby is dehydrated, it may be necessary to take the baby for a trip; if they have difficult, labored, shallow or fast breathing; if they have a high fever or blue skin; or if they don’t answer. The CDC says most get better with support and can often go home after a few days.

The best way to prevent RSV infections, doctors say, is to teach children to cough and sneeze into their elbows rather than their hands. Also try to keep frequently touched surfaces clean.

“Hand hygiene is the single most important thing we can do to keep ourselves and others safe,” said Davis of Children’s Hospital of Grand Rapids. People are told not to touch their faces unless they have recently washed their hands.

When children or adults are sick, they have to do one thing and one thing only, he said: “Stay home when you’re sick, so you don’t spread any respiratory disease you have.”

Sizemore, whose daughter is still in the hospital with RSV but seems to be getting better, advises people to take the virus seriously.

“I would like other parents to know that they should not take their child’s cough lightly and take the symptoms seriously,” she said. “This could have been a much worse situation if we hadn’t gotten Raegan’s help.”