MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A spike in a respiratory virus is hitting clinics and hospitals across the nation, including our own. The number of cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or more commonly known as RSV, has even triggered a warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV is an inflammation of the small airways of the lungs.
Health experts say the virus starts surfacing around mid-September to mid-May. Like many other viruses, RSV can spread easily through the air. Medical director of pediatric inpatient services at Grand Strand Medical Center, Dr. David Rosenberg, says they’ve noticed a spike in the past few weeks.
“Since we opened the inpatient pediatric program here in December of 2014, this is the worst RSV season we’ve seen, and I’ve been practicing for over 30 years, and certainly it’s the worst I’ve seen probably in the last 10 years,” said Rosenberg.
Grand Strand Medical Center and Conway Medical Center say they’ve seen a spike in RSV cases over the past two weeks.
Dr. Rosenberg says approximately 90 percent of children will have been exposed to RSV by the time they’re two years old. But in children and older adults with weakened immune systems, it can lead to more serious infections. RSV has about a six to eight day incubation period, and that’s why doctors say paying attention to initial symptoms is key.
“Just normal upper respiratory symptoms, sneezing, coughing, increased secretions, fever, with maybe audible wheezing, and then it can progress. It usually gets worse on day three, four and then slowly gets better,” said Rosenberg.
The virus is especially dangerous in young children and adults with weakened immune systems. That's because RSV can lead to even bigger problems, including pneumonia, bronchiolitis or a lung infection. The virus can easily be confused with the common cold.
“Not every child that has a cold needs to come to the emergency department or to see a physician. I think some indications to see a physician if your child is having difficulty eating for example, is having difficulty breathing. Maybe you’ll notice that the ribs are very prominent when they breathe, what we call the chest is sucking in, or they have a very anxious look on their face. I think those are all reasons,” said Rosenberg.
At Grand Strand Medical Center, there are special visitation restrictions in place in the Pediatrics Department. Anyone younger than 12 years old is restricted from visiting, due to the risk of cross contamination.
“I suspect that many children and adults that have RSV, don’t realize they have RSV, which is why it’s so prevalent in the community. In the community setting, typically in the daycare center, if one child has RSV, everyone’s going to get it. And the same in the schools. All we can do is teach our children to wash our hands carefully. If you’re going to sneeze or cough, cough into your sleeve and not your hands,” said Rosenberg.
Doctors say the biggest problem is there’s no specific treatment.
“So really the best therapy for patients with RSV is what we call symptomatic therapy. Treat the fever, Tylenol or ibuprofen. If they’re over six months of age, make sure they’re well hydrated,” said Rosenberg.
There is a shot available for premature babies called “palivizumab”, administered monthly to help protect them during peak RSV season. Doctors also say avoid those big crowds, and if you can’t avoid them, take good care of your personal hygiene and wash your hands to avoid spreading the virus.