Cases of RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, appear to be declining at MUSC Children’s Health after a very early peak. As you can see in the graph above, there were 407 positive test results for RSV in September. October has seen many cases, 178 to 20thebut RSV seems to be on a downward trend.
Allison Eckard, MD, serves as Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “I think we peaked early with RSV and we’re coming down. But I think we have to be cautious about what will happen during the winter. Will we see a second peak?
Parents hope not. Some, like Cory and Sara Robertson of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, have had the ordeal of seeing their babies hospitalized with RSV. Although RSV causes cold-like symptoms in most people, children younger than 4 months are susceptible to severe illness because they are transitioning from using their mother’s immune system to developing their own and have immature lungs that they are more susceptible to infection-induced inflammation.
And this is not the time for families to let their guard down, Eckard said. Another virus, the flu, is hot on the heels of RSV. Positive test results at MUSC Children’s Health increased from a total of 26 in September to 113 in October as of 20the.
“It is very unusual for us to have a flu season that starts so early. Typically, we wouldn’t become a red state until December or January and sometimes even later, February or March,” Eckard said. Red refers to the high flu level for the state as indicated on the national map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention below.
There are only a handful of states with high levels of flu right now, and it’s not clear why, and why now. “The epidemiologists they’re going to have a field day with this,” Eckard said.
She and other experts say COVID may have disrupted the regular seasonal patterns of some viruses, including RSV and the flu. Masking and isolation kept many people from getting sick. When they stopped doing those things, the viruses came back. And since most people hadn’t had the viruses for a couple of years, they hadn’t recently acquired immunity to protect them.
Eckard said most people haven’t gotten a flu shot yet. “So almost everyone is unprotected, and I’m sure that’s contributing to the spread. People really need to get out there and get their flu shot ASAP. And I always say for people who have children under 6 months, everyone in the family should get vaccinated to protect that baby. The flu vaccine is not approved for infants younger than 6 months, but they are often among our sickest patients.”
Eckard said people who have already had the flu this year still need to get vaccinated. “With the flu, there are typically multiple strains circulating during the season and often we have two peaks. For example, one with flu A and one with flu B. So even if you’ve had the flu this year, you still need to get vaccinated because it provides protection against multiple strains. It can be a debilitating disease. Getting a flu shot keeps you from feeling sick on the couch with a high fever and terrible body aches for a week or two.”
Influenza and RSV are not the only viruses circulating right now. So far in October, children have also been admitted to MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital with rhinovirus, enterovirus, adenovirus, COVID and other respiratory illnesses. Some of them have more than one infection. It all adds up to what Eckard called an unusual season for viruses. “It started very early this year.”