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Tampa Bay region children's hospitals see a rise in RSV cases

Baby lies on a bed as a doctor puts a stethoscope on their lungs
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Infants are most at-risk to get severe forms of RSV.

Doctors say a higher-than-normal amount of respiratory syncytial virus cases — which primarily affect children — are keeping them busy. But they say things are under control.

Hospitals in the greater Tampa Bay region have been dealing with an unusually high amount of RSV cases as Florida and other parts of the country experience a surge.

Short for respiratory syncytial virus, RSV primarily affects children.

RSV surges are common, but cases are ramping up earlier this year, according to pediatric pulmonologist John Prpich with Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.

The hospital is seeing an uptick in patients, but Prpich said the situation is not at the crisis level some facilities in the Northeast are experiencing, where some have reportedly had to set up tent facilities to handle the influx.

“So while we're busy, we're not at capacity or overwhelmed,” Prpich said.

All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg is in a similar situation. Infectious disease physician Juan Dumois said they've actually seen fewer RSV cases in the past couple weeks than they did in previous months, but still higher than average.

“This is not a summer virus. It usually begins to ramp up in late October, whereas we've been seeing it at steady numbers all summer and fall,” Dumois said.

Most people who get RSV experience cold symptoms, but infants are more at-risk for severe illness.

“The inflammation caused by the virus in their smaller airwaves can cause much more respiratory distress and even a need for oxygen at times, so they're much more likely to be hospitalized at that younger age,” Dumois said.

Children with heart or lung diseases are also more likely to experience complications. Doctors say parents should bring their child to an emergency room if the child has trouble breathing, develops a high fever, or shows signs of dehydration.

A monoclonal antibody treatment called Palivizumab is available for high-risk patients in the form of a monthly injection to help prevent infection during RSV season, Prpich said. But there’s still no RSV vaccine commercially available.

Clinical trials are showing signs of promise on a vaccine, but experts say Americans shouldn’t expect them to be authorized for use until late next year.

Doctors say RSV primarily spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, so they urge families to be diligent about handwashing and keeping surfaces clean.

They add with the holidays coming up, it’s important to stay home if you’re sick and avoid spending time with family or friends you know were recently ill.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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