By: Larissa Scott Posted at 8:00 AM, Nov 11, 2022 and last updated 8:00 AM, Nov 11, 2022

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is spreading quickly across the country right now.

“It is a respiratory virus that can cause cold-like symptoms,” said Dr. Michelle Blanco with the USF Department of Pediatrics.

Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist and associate professor at USF Health, agreed.

“This seems to be an unusually hard year for RSV,” he said.

Most commonly affecting kids five and under, symptoms can include fever, congestion, cough, and decreased energy.

“Once in a while, though, in certain children, they can have more severe symptoms,” Blanco said. “So children who were born prematurely or have another chronic lung disease like cystic fibrosis, children with congenital heart disease, asthma, and cerebral palsy. These children can sometimes have more severe symptoms of RSV.”

Dr. Juan Dumois, who works in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, said a tell-tale sign could be found in the mouth.

“If a child is starting to have a bluish or grayish discoloration around their lips, that suggests they’re not getting enough oxygen, and that warrants a visit to the emergency room,” he said.

Dr. David Berger, a board-certified pediatrician at Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care, said other signs can be noticeable, too.

“We should be looking for signs of respiratory distress. So these would be things like fast breathing, labored breathing,” Dr. Berger said. “Children under the age of two are most a risk of having serious complications.”

Pediatric ICUs nationwide are getting filled with RSV cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases across the country are at a two-year high.

“It’s a bigger problem this year than it has been for a while,” Teng said.

In Florida, Hillsborough and Pasco County Health Departments sent alerts this week about cases rising in local communities.

“We are seeing higher levels of RSV in our ERs and higher rates of hospitalization in children,” Blanco said.

Doctors fear the spread could get worse with holiday gatherings right around the corner. While RSV cases aren’t uncommon, what we’re seeing right now is.

“The timing of it is one of the things that’s unusual,” Berger said.

Doctors usually see a spike in RSV cases between December and February, but never to this magnitude.

“We don’t really know why it’s shifted earlier, but it is causing a significant number of problems,” Teng said.

Experts’ best theory behind this unprecedented surge is the sudden lack of public health measures like mask-wearing after two years of precautions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was a significant decrease in cases of RSV. Fast forward now, where contact precautions have decreased, we’re finding a new population of young children who’ve never been exposed to RSV,” Blanco said.

“Everybody is kind of getting it all at once now. All of the young children are getting it up until five when normally the three and four-year-olds would’ve had it by now,” Berger said.

The good news is most kids get mild RSV cases that parents can manage just fine at home.

“Suctioning of the nose, cold mist humidifier, good hydration, Tylenol or Motrin,” Blanco said.

Health experts suggested some precautions parents can take right now to try to avoid sickness.

“This RSV season, what we recommend for families is taking as many precautions as possible,” Blanco said. “Good hand hygiene is always a good idea. Staying away from sick contacts, teaching children that when they sneeze or cough, they should cover their mouth.”

Doctors stressed that these precautions are important to limit the spread as much as possible during the holidays.


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