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Springfield hospitals are dealing with a surge in RSV cases

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RSV is a common respiratory virus that can cause severe illness in kids with underlying conditions and older adults.

Springfield hospitals are seeing a surge in patients—primarily children—seeking care for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Mercy Springfield spokesperson Sonya Kullman said in a news release the hospital is seeing the kind of spike now that it doesn't usually see until January, and doctors don’t know how high numbers will go.

Dr. Kofi Asare-Bawuah, medical director of Pediatrics at CoxHealth, said Mercy's RSV patient numbers are up significantly compared to Octobers in recent years.

How RSV affects patients

Currently, about 50 percent of patients on the hospital’s pediatric floor have the illness, Asare-Bawuah said, and the younger a child, the more serious RSV can be.

“Usually when they come, it’s severe between days three to day five,” he said. “They usually will need some IV fluids. About half of them may end up needing some breathing support. They just need some oxygen to get them through that period and then they need a lot of suctioning.”

A small number of children who are admitted to the hospital may need to go to the ICU for more support, he said. Kids with underlying conditions and older adults tend to get the sickest.

Symptoms of RSV

Symptoms of RSV include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing.

Asare-Bawuah said parents should seek medical care if their child is breathing fast, the child is lethargic, hasn’t had a wet diaper in eight to 10 hours or hasn’t taken anything by mouth for six to 10 hours.

How to limit RSV's spread

RSV is spread by contact, so he said good handwashing is very important. And he suggests parents limit the number of people from outside their household who can have contact with their babies under six months as much as possible.

“And then, if you have a cold or sniffles, if you can, not necessarily quarantine, but limit contact with your babies that’s also going to be helpful,” he said. “If you have one sick child, if you can limit their contacts with their siblings, that will help with transmission as well.”

Other advice from local healthcare organizations: Avoid close contact with people who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms and avoid touching a child's face with unwashed hands.

If you or your child has cold or flu-like symptoms: Avoid contact with others; use a tissue or shirt sleeve to cover sneezes and coughs; clean frequently touched surfaces; and don't share food, beverages or utensils.

How CoxHealth is doing

Asare-Bawuah said CoxHealth currently has enough staff and beds to care for patients, and they’re making arrangements to have more beds available if needed.

RSV was virtually nonexistent during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when people were taking precautions to prevent COVID’s spread.

“We think the COVID precautions helped prevent the spread of RSV,” said Asare-Bawuah. “A number of kids were not exposed and are now getting exposed.”

An atypical RSV season

Last year, hospitals began seeing RSV in July and August, which isn’t typically when it starts showing up. According to the CDC, the onset of RSV season is usually mid-September to mid-November. The peak of the season is late December to mid-February, and cases begin to drop from mid-April to mid-May.

RSV Statistics

CDC data show that each year in the U.S. RSV leads to:

  • 58,000 to 80,000 hospitalizations among children younger than five
  • 60,000 to 120,000 hospitalizations among adults 65 and older
  • 6,000 to 10,000 deaths among adults 65 and older
  • 100 to 300 deaths in children younger than five-years-old.

According to a news release sent out by Springfield-Greene County Health, Mercy Springfield, CoxHealth and Jordan Valley Community Health Center, hospitals are expecting continued surges of patients due to viruses like RSV, influenza and COVID-19. Experts have been predicting a worse than normal flu season based on numbers in the southern hemisphere, including Australia, which saw its worst flu season in five years.

Hospitals implement visitor restrictions

Mercy Hospital has restricted sibling visits in the neonatal intensive care unit to prevents the spread of viruses. CoxHealth is continuing its policy of not allowing any visitors under the age of 15 in its NICU. Both health systems continue to require visitors to wear masks.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.