Monday Medical: How to cope with the spread of RSV |

Monday Medical: How to cope with the spread of RSV

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Parents of children, especially young ones, are in a high state of alert with the growing number of RSV cases across the state and nation. But while parents should stay vigilant, doctors in Steamboat Springs want to reassure parents not to be alarmed, and that clinics here can handle any uptick in cases.

“The interesting thing about RSV in our post-COVID-19 world is that it’s arrived earlier than we typically see it,” said Dr. Dana Fitzgerald, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “We want parents to know that this is something we are very used to taking care of, as it’s a common childhood illness.”

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is an airborne virus that causes infections in the organs involved in breathing, such as the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi and lungs. It can be particularly harmful to infants, the elderly, and those with asthma or compromised immune systems.

Why the surge now instead of January or February?

During the past few winters, many Americans practiced social distancing, wore masks, and avoided large social gatherings or crowds, causing a decrease in viral-borne illnesses such as RSV.

But with those safeguards increasingly rare as we head back to the workplace, to indoor events and to holiday gatherings, health care professionals are seeing a spike in not just RSV, but other respiratory illnesses such as influenza, colds, strep throat and COVID.

“A lot of kids didn’t have a chance to build up at least some resistance to something like RSV,” she said.

A rapid antigen test has been developed for RSV, though the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine testing for children older than six weeks, with the rationale being that the treatment is the same regardless of the test result. Fitzgerald said they have been offering the test as an option to parents. However, a national RSV test shortage will likely mean that they will have to ration tests as well, she said.

Symptoms of RSV

The most telltale sign of RSV is a cough.

“A nasty, terrible cough, and it can linger for as long as two to three weeks,” said Fitzgerald.

Other signs include fever, sneezing, decrease in appetite and a runny nose.

For parents of infants or toddlers, the biggest concern is for those being breast or bottle fed who might not be able to swallow if their nasal passages are full of mucus, as they have a difficult time breathing. Other signs to watch for are if a child:

  • Has difficulty breathing or is wheezing.
  • Can’t keep fluids down.
  • Becomes dehydrated.
  • Spikes a fever on day four or five of an illness.

“Then you want to bring them in,” she said.

If you have an older child, say elementary age and older, RSV usually appears as a bad cold. Keep them out of school if they can’t control their cough or if they’re feeling lethargic and not able to concentrate on schoolwork.

“Once they feel up to being able to play outside at recess, then they’re probably up to going to school,” said Fitzgerald.

How to care for a child with RSV

Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics are not an effective treatment; instead, Fitzgerald recommends “supportive care” that can include:

  • Suctioning a child’s nose to remove mucus.
  • Reducing fever with ibuprofen, such as Motrin, or acetaminophen, such as Tylenol.
  • Using the steam from a hot shower in a closed bathroom to help reduce nasal inflammation.
  • Drinking fluids and honey (for those 1 year or older).
  • Washing hands and surfaces frequently.
  • Coughing into the elbow.
  • Getting plenty of rest.

“This is something that’s in the community every year. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of it much earlier this time around,” she said.

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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