DENVER — Colorado physicians are seeing an increase in pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and while the severity of individual cases may vary, there are key steps for prevention.
"This year we're seeing more RSV than we have in the previous two years," said Dr. Reginald Washington of Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. "We've seen an uptick here in our emergency room as well as in our hospital."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is a "common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults." Namely, those symptoms include coughing, wheezing, runny nose and decreased appetite.
Washington explained RSV's symptom range means it's imperative for parents to be highly responsive once a child tests positive for the virus.
"RSV can be serious even if you get treatment early on, so that's why it's important not to make the assumption of how your child's going to do. But certainly, if your child continues to progress — difficulty breathing, wheezing, high fever — and they're not getting better, don't assume anything. Seek medical attention," Washington said.
The CDC says the virus can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, if you touch surfaces that have the virus on it, or you have direct contact with an infected person, like kissing.
On Wednesday, state health officials confirmed to Denver7 pediatric hospitalizations for RSV have increased. From Oct.1 through Oct. 19, CDPHE reported 109 pediatric RSV hospitalizations. During the same time frame last year, there were 55 pediatric RSV hospitalizations.
Washington said the uptick can be attributed to a lessening of public health protocols.
"We didn't see much RSV the last couple of years, frankly, because of COVID," Washington said. "Everyone was wearing masks and so forth, so it was not easy for RSV to spread. That's not true anymore, and so we expect an uptick in RSV. It is very contagious."
A few simple steps can reduce transmission risks, according to Washington, including cleaning high-contact surfaces, frequent hand-washing, and avoiding touch without clean hands.
Earlier this month, Sarah Schmidt, a Grand Junction grandmother, said her granddaughter almost died after an RSV diagnosis.
"I'm just grateful because we got to keep her, and a lot of parents that this happens to, and a lot of family members that this happens to, they don't get to bring their babies home," Schmidt said through tears.
She said her granddaughter, Hope, came down with a persistent cough and fever during the first weekend of October. The grandmother took the 2-year-old to an area hospital, where the symptoms worsened.
"She went into respiratory failure. Her heart went down to 40 beats per minute," she said. "[The doctors] all came in and they intubated her."
The toddler, her parents and Schmidt took an emergency helicopter to the Denver metro area for treatment. Now, Hope is on the mend, but Schmidt hopes her granddaughter's story encourages others to take safety precautions.
"Trust your gut, and wash your child's hands constantly," Schmidt said.