Credit: / Shutterstock

As COVID-19 precautions eased during the summer months, public health officials saw an increase in another ailment in children: respiratory syncytial virus, often called RSV. In a press release Sunday, they urged parents to take precautions as the weather grows colder. 

RSV typically circulates in the wintertime. In most people, it causes mild cold symptoms but, according to the Centers for Disease Control, it is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants. It can also pose a significant risk for older adults and those with weakened immune systems. 

This year, doctors saw an off-season swell of RSV. In a press release, Dr. Juan Salazar, physician-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, said instances of the virus continue to be higher than expected this time of year. 

“This is likely because safety measures relaxed over the summer and people started getting together again. Similar to COVID-19 and the flu, RSV spreads very easily through mouth and nose droplets when a person coughs or sneezes,” Salazar said. “It can also survive on surfaces, infecting someone who touches a contaminated surface.”

In order to prevent spread of respiratory ailments like RSV, flu and COVID, doctors recommend masking, handwashing, and avoiding crowds when possible. Most young children who contract RSV only develop mild symptoms like a runny nose, fever, or a cough. However, it can be more dangerous for infants who were born premature, those with weakened immune systems, or have chronic lung and heart problems. According to the CDC, the virus results in the hospitalization of roughly 58,000 kids younger than five each year. 

“RSV is a leading cause of hospitalization in the winter months in children’s hospitals, but now we are seeing it in the late summer and fall,” Dr. Thomas Murray, associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale Nw Haven Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. “Hospitalized children with RSV typically go home within a few days but the most serious cases can last a week or longer.”

According to the CDC, around 1 or 2% of infants who contract the virus may need to be hospitalized. Most improve with oxygen or breathing assistance and are discharged within a few days. Still, public health officials worry the unusual number of off-season cases may translate into wider spread during the winter months. 

“RSV made an early impact over the summer in Connecticut, and that could be a sign of things to come this winter,”  Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the Public Health Department, said.