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Kids are at risk for RSV. Here’s how health experts say to protect them

RSV is a common respiratory illness spread by close contact that causes cold-like symptoms.
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash
RSV is a common respiratory illness spread by close contact that causes cold-like symptoms.

Pediatricians are seeing an increase in children infected with respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus, orRSV.According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of Indiana RSV tests came back positive the second week of October,almost doublethe percentage of positive tests the same week last year. Nationwide, there were nearly 5,000 positive tests the second week of October.

RSV is a common respiratory illness spread by close contact, and most people are exposed by age 2, saidDr. Christopher Belcher, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent.

“Because young babies are at risk, it's one of the reasons you should not take them out in public where they can be handled or passed around by groups,” Belcher said. “Because whereas it may be a mild disease or even without symptoms in older children and adults, it can be devastating to young infants, especially premature ones.”

RSV causes cold-like symptoms and can lead to more serious illnesses like croup or pneumonia.

Belcher said RSV season traditionally starts in November, but children are getting infected sooner.

The spike in RSV cases may be because the virus hasn’t been as common the past two years due to pandemic precautions like hand washing and social distancing, Belcher said. With less COVID-19 restrictions, the virus can spread to more people.

“So now you have older kids who have not had the virus yet and then we kind of got rid of those measures that were decreasing the spread of COVID and RSV, at the same time,” Belcher said. “So now you have a big gap of kids who've never seen RSV, and you have older kids catching it at day care and relatives and some kids in school, and they're spreading it to the younger ones, too.”

Belcher also said children are also at higher risk for flu this year, and encourages children to get their flu shots.

“So while it doesn't prevent RSV, it does prevent another severe, sometimes deadly, respiratory virus that these kids may get,” he said.

The CDC offers advice forprotecting children from RSV, including washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and staying home when sick.

Contact reporter Darian Benson at Follow on Twitter:

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Darian Benson is a reporter based at WFYI in Indianapolis. An Indy native, she is eager to report on public health in her hometown. Darian graduated with a journalism degree from Indiana Unviersity- Purdue University Indianapolis. Previously, she covered city and public policy for WFYI and statewide public health for Indiana Public Broadcasting.