What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus? US Hospitals Record Surge in RSV Cases in Infants

Hospitals across the United States are seeing a surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RVS) in children, especially the infants, over the last three to four weeks.

Doctors are surprised that the virus began circulating in the summer because it usually peaks in winter. This time around, RSV is hitting harder and earlier than expected.

What is RSV?

It is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than one year of age in the United States.

It stated that rhinoviruses typically cause the common cold and enteroviruses often cause mild, respiratory symptoms. But in rare cases, it can cause severe illness. This virus can be severe or young babies or children with lung diseases or weakened immune systems. The CDC said RSV results in around 58,000 annual hospitalizations and 100 to 300 deaths among children under the age of five.

Running Nose

Doctors believe RSV is spreading earlier this year because many children were not exposed to respiratory viruses earlier in the pandemic due to masking and social distancing. These infection control measures protected people from all these viruses, but with these measures now relaxed, the viruses are back with a vengeance.

Parents are advised not to worry about every cough or runny nose, but they should look out for signs that a child is lethargic or breathing hard or fast.

States Overwhelmed By RSV Patients

Five states – California, Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – pediatric hospital bed capacity has been strained due to an influx of RSV patients. Dr Charlotte Boney, a paediatrician-in-chief at Baystate Children's Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, revealed that they are having a capacity problem which has never been seen before. She said the hospital saw a higher volume of patients in September, many of whom had RSV.

Boney highlighted that the pediatric ICU was closed to new patients on Wednesday because no beds were available. She added that many RSV patients in Massachusetts are being transferred to nearby states.


Dr Sameer Kamath, chief medical officer for Duke Children's Hospital and Health Center, outlined that in the area around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill have had nights when there has been only one bed available between three institutions.

He described this as "scary". Dr John Cunningham, Comer Children's Hospital physician-in-chief, said the hospital and ICU beds have been full for over a month. He shared that the emergency room is seeing a 150% higher volume than its usual for October. Cunningham said the hospital is treating 10 to 30 RSV patients at a given time – this occupies a large share of its 30 ICU and 60 emergency beds.

Dr John Bradley, Rady Children's Hospital medical director of infectious diseases, said 50 patients have tested positive for RSV over the last few days in San Diego – two or three times than what the hospital has experienced earlier.