Along with other hospitals across the country, Children’s Wisconsin is starting to see a rise in cases of children with respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
We know this viral season feels tricky and may be hard to understand with so many other illnesses — like COVID-19 and influenza — circling the community. But our pediatric experts are here to help you understand what RSV is and what you can do to keep your child safe and as healthy as possible this viral season.
RSV is a common cause of respiratory illness in all age groups. Among infants and young children, it is the most common cause of bronchitis, croup, ear infections and pneumonia. The infection occurs most often in the winter and early spring, and is so common that almost all children have had the virus by age 2.
RSV spreads easily when people with the infection cough or sneeze. It also spreads through direct contact with an infected person. And, the virus can live on hard surfaces. A person can get the infection by touching something with the virus on it. For example, crib rails or door knobs. It spreads quickly in group settings, such as daycare and schools, which is what makes kids so susceptible to the virus.
Most babies and children with an RSV infection have the same symptoms they might have with a cold or flu. These include a stuffy or runny nose, a cough, headache, and a low fever. Their appetite may also be lower, and for nursing babies that can mean less wet diapers.
Kids who are at greater risk for hospitalization from RSV, and other viral illnesses that impact breathing, include:
These kids don’t have the lung and breathing strength to remove the snot and congestion in their airways.
Most adults and older kids are able to cough all that junk up, so RSV is just a cold for them.
These warning signs are for anyone. If a family has a concern or question about their child’s health, always reach out to your primary care provider or pediatrician. If your family doesn’t have an established doctor, Children’s Wisconsin offers both walk-in and online urgent care. Other walk-in clinics in your community may be available as well. If your child is having a hard time breathing, call 9-1-1 or seek out emergency care.
Take these preventative measures to reduce the spread of illnesses:
Not necessarily. RSV is typically diagnosed through answering questions about symptoms and a physical exam. A physical exam, nasal swab or even chest x-ray would only be necessary if your child requires treatment and hospitalization.
RSV has similar symptoms and is treated the same as many other respiratory illnesses during viral season, and typically does not require hospitalization. Because the treatment isn’t specific to RSV, tests aren’t needed to help guide care. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) don’t recommend testing for RSV as the test can be unpleasant (a nasal swab like you’ve seen with COVID-19) and unnecessary.
However, at-home tests are available. Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized Labcorp’s Seasonal Respiratory Virus RT-PCT DTC Test that allows you to collect a nasal swab sample at home and send it to Labcorp for testing. At-home testing options can be used for those who don’t require treatment or hospitalization, as they help keep urgent care and Emergency Department locations available for those who need our help.
Viral surges happen every year, and this increase in RSV is happening earlier than in the past. It is causing longer than typical wait times at all our locations, including primary care, walk-in and online urgent care and the Emergency Department.
The providers and staff at all of our locations are committed to ensuring families are getting answers to their questions and kids are receiving the care they need. During these viral increases, providers and staff work longer hours and pick up extra shifts. We all know that families rely on Children’s Wisconsin. I am so proud and thankful for our team's dedication to kids.
If a family has a concern or question about their child’s health, always reach out to your primary care provider or pediatrician. If your family doesn’t have an established doctor, Children’s Wisconsin offers both walk-in and online urgent care. Other walk-in clinics in your community may be available as well. If your child is having a hard time breathing, call 9-1-1 or seek out emergency care. You can also use the Children's Wisconsin app's symptom checker, which provides quick and easy access to some answers. The app also allows quick same-day scheduling with your primary care provider. You can download the app by clicking here.