Respiratory Syncytial Virus: What Every Parent Should Hear from Health First Physicians

Respiratory Syncytial Virus: What Every Parent Should Hear from Health First Physicians

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HEALTH FIRST PEDIATRICIAN SHEILA MCLEOD, MD at her Seaside office in Indialantic. (Health picture first)

HOLMES HEALTH FIRST REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER IS SEEING AN INCREASE IN RSV CASES.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The Pediatric Emergency Department at Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center is seeing an increase in RSV cases in very young patients. That should be alarming to anyone.

That doesn’t mean all pediatric RSV cases should end here, health system doctors say.

“If you’re worried about shortness of breath, always go to the ER,” says Dr. Larissa Dudley, an ER physician.

“If it’s mild (runny nose, stuffy nose, cough not causing shortness of breath), then going to a pediatrician is completely reasonable.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all American children have an RSV infection by the time they are 24 months old. The vast majority experience cold-like symptoms before they recover. But it is the number 1 cause of bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the lower airways).

“That’s what concerns us with these viruses,” says Health First pediatrician Sheila McLeod, MD. “The first few days they have the typical cold symptoms, but usually around day 3 they get worse. That’s when they can develop these signs of shortness of breath. That’s when they need to go to their doctor or the emergency room.”

But Dr. McLeod warns that after being seen, parents can administer a lot of relief. A primary therapy is nasal suctioning with saline solution.

“But they need to be seen.”

LARISSA DUDLEY, MD is an emergency room physician and deputy medical director for Health First’s first flight. Above, Dr. Dudley, right, stands with Scott Zenoni, MD, a trauma surgeon at Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center.

Experts say that one of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that our youngest children, born at or just before the start of the pandemic, have been uniquely protected from exposure to common viruses like RSV. RSV rates are about double what they were last year and up to five times what they were two to three years ago.

“We didn’t see as much RSV in 2021 and certainly in 2020,” says Dr. Dudley, “and that’s because of people’s behavior. We either wore masks and practiced good hand hygiene or didn’t go out in public. So parents with children 2 years old and younger, this may seem new and unexpected when in fact we have a different perspective due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Respiratory syncytial virus sends about 58,000 children under the age of 5 to the hospital each year, usually for intravenous hydration and supplemental oxygen, as well as treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all American children have an RSV infection by the time they reach 24 months. The vast majority experience cold-like symptoms before they recover. But it is the number 1 cause of bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the lower airways).

TO DO?

RSV is transmitted by both physical contact and respiratory droplets. Washing and sanitizing your and your baby’s hands is effective in reducing transmission, as is wearing masks when interacting with others.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an excellent online resource for parents, says Dr. McLeod. This page, RSV: When It’s More Than Just a Cold, consider when a baby or child is battling a cold and when it’s something more serious, like RSV-induced bronchiolitis.

The most important thing is to make sure that the patient stays hydrated and is not having difficulty breathing.
MEDICAL CONSULTATION OR EMERGENCY?

The most severe cases of RSV in young children and infants find their way to area hospitals, such as Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center and its Pediatric Emergency Department.

But not all mild or moderate cases should end there. Why? Because hospitals are places where other diseases are present and being treated. In most cases, a call to your pediatrician or primary care provider is the fastest path to recovery.

However, Drs. Dudley and McLeod listed these conditions as reasons to stop what you’re doing and visit the nearest hospital emergency department right away:

■ Take rapid, irregular breaths, grunting for breath, flaring nostrils
■ The skin between the ribs, below the collarbone, and above the breastbone is “sucked in” with each breath.
■ Bluish-purple color around the lips.
■ Flabby and lethargic bodies
■ Eat and drink less so that they produce less than half the normal number of wet diapers.

And above all, trust your gut, Dr. McLeod tells parents.

“Parenting is instinctive. If you’re worried, get your baby checked out.”

To make an appointment with a Health First doctor, including virtual visits and urgent care, visit HF.org/schedule.

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