Doctors concerned about 'mixing of viruses' amid increased cases of RSV and COVID-19

NOW: Doctors concerned about ’mixing of viruses’ amid increased cases of RSV and COVID-19

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Across Wisconsin, doctors are seeing not just the COVID-19 virus circulating among children, but other viruses, as well. They're calling attention to increased cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that most people get as young children. Doctors most often see the virus in children under 2, and by the time they reach 2 years old, most children have had RSV.

"We really have a whole cohort of kids last year who never got it and therefore are susceptible, plus a new cohort of children who who are susceptible, plus of course we have COVID going on in the community," said Dr. Ellen Wald, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.

For about six weeks, Dr. Wald has seen a rise in cases of RSV.

"I just think there's so much mixing of viruses," she explained. "When we see a child who comes in with just a runny nose or a cough, we can't tell the difference between COVID and RSV or any of the other community viruses."

She said the increase in RSV cases is unusual because the infection is much more common January through March.

About 1 in 100 children under 2 who get RSV need to be hospitalized, causing concerns that more cases than usual could put a strain on hospitals.

"This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in terms of just the capacity of the healthcare system 18 months into a pandemic," said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Covid-19 cases are also increasing among children, and although the virus doesn't usually affect children severely, doctors said there are other people to think about.

"They can spread it to classmates. They can bring it home to families, vulnerable family members, and of course there are quite a few children that are medically complex or fragile themselves that we need to be thinking about," Dr. Navsaria said.

So if children experience even a runny nose or other minor symptoms, both doctors said it's important their parents bring them to get them tested to rule out COVID-19.

"All of us know that we've gone to work with a minor cold and we've sent our kids to school and we've sent our kids to daycare with a minor cold, and that was OK in the past, it's just not OK now," Dr. Wald said.

Doctors said wearing masks can prevent RSV and the flu the same way they prevent COVID-19. 

"Even if you're in a school in a community where masks are not required, have your child wear a reasonably fitting mask that works fairly well," Dr. Navsaria said.

He said it's important to get children 12 and older vaccinated. And once younger kids are eligible to get them vaccinated, sign them up, as well.

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