RSV, typically a ‘winter sport’ at children’s hospitals, is increasing again in Louisiana | Coronavirus

Louisiana is in another unusual summer surge of RSV, the respiratory virus that typically causes winter colds in children.

Cases of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, are rising at hospitals in New Orleans and across the state, said Dr. Mark Kline, physician in chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans and an infectious disease expert.

“Historically, RSV is more of a wintertime epidemic,” said Kline. “We would see a smattering of cases in summer.”

But for the last two years, the pattern has flip-flopped.

About 10% of all RSV tests given at the hospital are returning positive, said Kline. Over the winter, the number was as low as 1%. At Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, test positivity rates have hit as high as 18% in recent weeks.

For many children, RSV is a typical cold. But for some, especially newborns and children with heart conditions or chronic lung disease, it can lead to a serious and life-threatening illness. It usually peaks between December and February, but this is the second year in a row that physicians have seen much higher cases during summer.

The current numbers are not as bad as they were at last year’s peak in July, and the current cases do not seem as severe, said Kline. But RSV is especially dangerous to children under 2, and there is currently a 2-week-old infant and a five-month-old baby on ventilators at Children’s Hospital New Orleans due to infections.

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It’s not clear why RSV is increasing during summer, but experts think COVID has something to do with it.

“Masking, other changes and maybe COVID itself altered the epidemiology of RSV, so it changes the way it expresses itself,” said Kline.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for RSV, though providers are able to give supportive care for related complications like pneumonia or infections.

Although it’s not a threat to most healthy children, the unusual timing throws off how hospitals handle the respiratory disease, which is typically a “winter sport,” said Dr. Michael Bolton, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

Hospitals usually staff up during winter in anticipation of more patients. There’s also a medication that is given to kids who are at risk of severe illness from RSV, typically in October. When the pattern of infection is unusual, it’s harder to time those preparations.

“It’s hard to predict some things now,” said Bolton. “When will this peak, will this be the only one this year?”

The rate of RSV is not nearly where it was at the peak of infections last June and July, when the percentage of tests returning positive was as high as 40% statewide. But providers are urging caution and handwashing, especially around infants and children with heart and lung conditions.

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Emily Woodruff covers public health for The Times-Picayune | The Advocate as a Report For America corps member.

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