PORTLAND, Maine — There’s been a surge in Respiratory Syncytial Virus cases around the country, and Maine is no different.
The infection caused by RSV is a common respiratory illness that results in thousands of children going to the hospital each year. In Maine, health care providers at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital have already noticed a spike in cases.
Symptoms of RSV can range from mild to severe. Doctor Mary Ottolini at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center says RSV cases are most common in the winter, but this year there is already a spike in cases.
“We are seeing an unprecedented number of young children, infants and older children come to the emergency department,” Ottolini said.
Each year, about 58,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized with RSV and as many as 300 of those patients die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most common between December and February, hospitals in at least 33 states are seeing a rise now. At Maine Medical Center, doctors say RSV cases that could be treated by a primary care physician are leading to longer wait times at the ER.
“The majority of the children that we are seeing now in the emergency department have symptoms that could be managed best by their primary care provider,” Ottolini said.
She stressed that a parent’s first call in most cases should be to their primary care provider.
Symptoms to look out for include fever, coughing, wheezing, change or loss of appetite, along with fatigue. Doctors say parents should watch out for signs of respiratory distress. That would include a child’s nostrils flaring while breathing, their skin pulling in towards their ribs and with babies, their abdomen going up and down while breathing.
There are no vaccines for RSV, however, you can reduce the risk of catching the virus. Experts say to wash hands frequently, avoid exposure and keeping things like doorknobs clean.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most children will be infected with RSV by the age of two.