Saint Barnabas Medical Center Addresses RSV Concerns Among Children and Infants

Though unusual for this time of year, physicians at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, located in Livingston, N.J.,  are seeing more cases of an easily spread virus that could pose a serious threat to a child's health as well the elderly and adults with chronic lung disease. It's called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. While most children and babies who get RSV just appear to have a cold, it can cause pneumonia and other lung problems. In severe cases, it can sometimes lead to death.

“Typically we see RSV cases in the fall, winter and spring,” explains Uzma Hasan, MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. “The current increase at this time of the year reflects a change in the typical pattern of circulation of the virus. This may have to do with the masking/hand hygiene measures related to the pandemic followed by the easing of prevention measures and travel restrictions.”

The New Jersey Department of Health reports that prevention and control efforts implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic also helped to prevent transmission of other seasonal respiratory viruses this past fall/winter season. Due to reduced circulation of RSV during the previous winter, older infants and toddlers might now be at increased risk of severe RSV-associated illness since they have likely not had typical levels of exposure to RSV during the past 15 months.

"Anybody can get RSV, but we usually worry the most about younger children and babies,” explains Dr. Hasan. "Special concern is warranted for babies who have reduced immune systems and premature infants as their lungs just aren't strong enough to handle the virus. They can get very severe infections and need to be hospitalized.” Preventative medication can provide some protection in these populations.

Signs of RSV include stuffy/runny nose, sneezing and a fever. Severe RSV can include wheezing, coughing, and trouble breathing. RSV and COVID-19 symptoms in infants can be similar. “PCR testing is recommended to make the determinations,” Dr. Hasan notes. She add that for the most part in older healthy children, what they are experiencing is most likely a common cold.

“You might also see difficulty eating, drinking or sleeping,” says Dr. Hasan. “If a child’s skin color is blue or gray or you see any of these other severe symptoms, contact your doctor right away.”

The best protection against RSV, as with COVID-19, is to have everyone wash his or her hands often, especially before touching a baby. These additional tips should be followed by families who have infants:

  • keep people who have colds away from your baby, including siblings
  • keep your baby away from crowds
  • wash baby's toys and bedding often
  • be sure to NOT share pacifiers, bottles, cups, forks, spoons, towels or washcloths
  • be sure to NOT smoke around your baby