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Indiana hospital sees surge in pediatric cases of rare respiratory illness

(Photo from Video Aired on WISH-TV)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Community Health is seeing a surge in pediatric cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

News 8 spoke with Dr. Chris Ross, emergency room physician at Community Health Network, about the virus, why the number of cases is increasing, and how the hospital is managing the situation.

Dr. Mary Gillis: What virus are currently circulating right now?

Dr. Chris Ross: Right now, we’re seeing a myriad of different viruses. RSV is pretty prevalent, especially amongst kids. We are still seeing some trailing COVID from the last surge that we’ve had. A couple of flu cases, but not a ton. I’d expect over the next coming weeks that flu would really ramp up. This is typically the season. COVID is probably going to continue to ramp down since it’s been turning down recently. RSV is probably going to continue. It generally gets worse in the winter months as well.

Gillis: What is respiratory syncytial virus?

Ross: RSV is what most people would deem as a common cold, but it causes its own set of special issues in children. Breathing issues that end up landing them in the hospital sometimes, sometimes because of rapid breathing, sometimes because of low oxygen levels, sometimes because of pneumonia. It’s something most adults experience as just a common cold, but it can cause especially younger kids to get sicker.

Gillis: How can a parent tell the difference between a cold and RSV?

Ross: RSV versus a different kind of cold would be pretty much indistinguishable for most of the population, and a lot of times it doesn’t matter. If your kids have RSV or a common cold, normally they are going to fight it off and be OK; Tylenol, ibuprofen, fluids and a humidifier in the room, pretty conservative methods. But if a kid has more difficulty breathing, especially if they have respiratory issues, you should bring them into the emergency department to see if they need to be tested for further evaluation. 

Gillis: Is RSV a new illness? And why do you think so many kids are getting sick with it?

Ross: It’s always been around. It’s been different because of the masking requirements with COVID. So the typical seasons that we see aren’t the typical seasons anymore. Generally, when people didn’t mask anywhere we would see it around wintertime. Now, we’re seeing it because of masking requirements and COVID surges and kind of the way the community exists now. We’re seeing now when more people are heavily exposed to the population. So, the beginning of the school year is really when we started seeing this huge surge of RSV. When they are going back to school, then bringing it back home, giving it to their younger siblings, then those younger siblings are getting sicker, which is prompting their visits to the ER.