Local cases of RSV, croup on the rise

Viruses not typical for this time of year

While most virus news continues to be about the one that causes COVID-19, there are several other viruses affecting local children.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory about respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Cases of the infection, which is the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in kids under a year of age, are on the rise, especially in the southern U.S.

What’s unusual about the virus this year is that RSV infections primarily occur in the fall and winter. RSV activity decreased rapidly last year, likely due to the adoption of public health measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. According to the CDC, older infants and toddlers might now be at increased risk of severe RSV-associated illness since they likely have not had typical levels of exposure to RSV during the past year.

The local numbers suggest Kentucky is following this trend. Last month, Norton Children’s saw more than a dozen confirmed RSV cases, including seven children who required hospitalization. Both numbers are higher than the previous 12 months combined.

Sayeed Khan, D.O., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Fern Creek, has treated several cases in recent weeks.

Pediatricians near home, work or school

Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, offers pediatric primary care at more than 20 locations throughout the Louisville area, including Southern Indiana.

Find a pediatrician

“Symptoms of RSV include nasal drainage/congestion, wheezing and some labored breathing,” Dr. Khan said. “Fever may be present, and dehydration is common, due to increased effort in breathing. The most dreaded complication is respiratory failure, which requires hospitalization.”

Increase in croup as well

Norton Children’s is also seeing an increase in cases of croup, a viral illness that makes a child’s airway swell. With croup, a child likely will have a “barking” cough (often compared to the sound of a seal’s bark) and a raspy voice, and will make a high-pitched, squeaky noise when they breathe.

In May, Norton Children’s diagnosed 84 cases of croup, including 11 hospitalizations. As with RSV, those numbers are higher than the previous year combined.

With these illnesses on the rise, Dr. Khan recommends parents, especially of babies, be extra careful.

“Ideally, anyone with cold-like symptoms shouldn’t interact with infants, kids younger than 2 years with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems,” Dr. Khan said. “If that’s unavoidable, proper hand-washing is key. Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands and sharing cups or eating utensils.”

What to do if your child is at risk

Most children with RSV or croup recover in a week or two, but the illnesses can be fatal for infants, especially those born prematurely. Parents of children at high risk should help their child by:

  • Avoiding close contact with sick people
  • Washing their hands often with soap and water
  • Not touching the child’s face with unwashed hands

When to seek medical attention

If your child is displaying symptoms of a respiratory illness, it’s a good idea to visit the pediatrician’s office for testing. However, if the child is really struggling to breathe, doctors recommend going to the emergency department.