What is RSV? Respiratory syncytial virus reported in children earlier than usual this year

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RSV cases are increasing in Ontario, with cases affecting children earlier than usual this year.

  • Sidra Hassan, MD, PhD, is an infectious disease specialist at Cambridge Memorial Hospital.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases affecting children are increasing in Ontario at an earlier rate than usual this year.

During a press conference on November 9, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) reported an increase in respiratory viruses, including RSV, in Ontario.

We spoke with Sidra Hassan, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Cambridge Memorial Hospital, to learn more about the virus and how it’s affecting local residents.

HOW MANY CASES OF RSV ARE REPORTED AT CAMBRIDGE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL?

Locally in Cambridge, “85 to 90 percent of cases of respiratory illness are (occur in) pediatric patients,” according to Hassan.

“The total number of cases of respiratory diseases so far this calendar year (2022-2023) is 37 (four adults and 33 pediatric patients); last year (2021-2022), this number was 74. There were zero RSV cases in August, one in September and 12 in October,” Hassan said, adding that it is unusual to see an increase in RSV cases so early. In the season. “Our peak season for RSV is November through January.”

THE INCREASE IN RESPIRATORY VIRUSES AND RSV IS NOT UNEXPECTED

In a study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal in July 2021, members of the British Columbia RSV Immunoprophylaxis Program warned of a potential resurgence in RSV cases. They reported that, thanks to mandatory social distancing and mask measures, a sharp decline in the number of positive cases for RSV and influenza has been observed in many countries, including Canada.

The authors also noted that lack of exposure to RSV “raises the possibility that infants are less protected than normal and may become more ill if…infected.” Exposure to pathogens has been shown to be important in developing a robust immune system.

Addressing concerns about mask wearing, OMA President Rose Zacharias, MD, urged the public to wear masks to avoid overloading the medical system, which continues to be stretched due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Nearly 10,000 new cases (positive for COVID-19) were confirmed the week of October 30, and hospitalization rates (for COVID-19) are higher than they have been since February.”

WHAT IS RSV?

“RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is an RNA virus that causes acute respiratory tract disease,” Hassan explained. “(Typically) almost all children are infected with (RSV) by two years of age. But children under the age of one can have more severe disease than older children and adults.”

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF RSV?

Hassan said the symptoms vary by age. “In children (0 to 1 year old), (symptoms) usually present as irritability, refusal to feed, decreased activity, and shortness of breath. In older children, (symptoms manifest as) fever, cough, sneezing, runny nose, perhaps audible wheezing and decreased appetite,” Hassan described. “In severe cases, it can affect the lower respiratory tract, leading to bronchitis or pneumonia. . ”

Adults are usually asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms, although, due to the lower exposure, some parents in Cambridge have complained of a persistent cough. Older adults (over age 65) and those who are immunocompromised may also have more severe symptoms.

HOW IS RSV TREATED?

RSV and other respiratory illnesses such as the common cold or flu are managed at home with medications to reduce fever and control body and muscle aches. Symptoms usually disappear within two weeks. Immunoprophylaxis (antibody therapy) is reserved for newborns and infants who may be at risk of or have contracted the severe form of RSV.

However, it is important to see a doctor if symptoms worsen or last for more than two weeks.

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