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Unusual summer spike in RSV, reports East Tennessee Children’s Hospital

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital reports an unusual summer time rise in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus. So, what’s going on?
Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 7:00 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 5, 2021 at 3:48 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Officials with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital reported an unusual summer-time spike in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a respiratory virus that affects children and adults.

RSV usually affects children in the winter months, but East Tennessee is experiencing a spike this summer, according to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joe Childs.

Dr. Childs describes it as “unusual for the summertime.”

“No, it’s not unusual to have hundreds in a month during the winter, but very abnormal during the summer,” said Erica Estep, public relations manager at ETCH. During the 2019-2020 winter season, ETCH saw 362 cases during the worst month around the winter peak, but this season things are different.

So far there have been 612 confirmed RSV cases at ETCH for the 2020-2021 season, according to Estep.

RSV season normally wraps up around mid-April but July saw the highest case rate of 2021 with 303 cases reported. During the winter, ETCH saw less than 10 cases per month. Now, in the Spring and Summer, they are seeing hundreds.

That is a noticeable increase from 2020, according to a Professor of Pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University, Dr. Ben Hoffman.

“Last year, we saw almost no RSV and almost no flu, and that was because kids were not congregating and people were wearing masks,” said Hoffman. “It turns out that washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing works for other infections in addition to COVID. So as things started to open up in the spring and in the summer, people were getting back together and transmission of the normal viruses, the things that we usually don’t see on a yearly basis, started just in a completely weird timeline.”

Patients who get RSV usually have common cold symptoms, but some cases can be serious in young children. The virus spreads through the air and causes congestion and coughing. It can be serious for children under six-months old, however.

Moderna has received a Food and Drug Administration fast track designation for an RSV vaccine.

The hospital is also treating four children for COVID-19, though Dr. Childs tells parents it is “not the time to panic.”

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