Portrait of a sick girl standing with napkin close her nose.

GCPH: Take caution as pediatric respiratory infections increase

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) on the rise in Colorado

November 17, 2022

There has been a rapid increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections across Colorado, particularly among infants and children below the age of two. In addition, cases of COVID-19 and flu continue to spread.

The surge in infections has caused a rise in RSV hospitalizations in the Denver metro area, putting increased strain on limited hospital capacity.
“We can’t always avoid every illness, but we can give ourselves the best chance possible,” said Immunizations Nurse Manager Danielle Dudley with Garfield County Public Health (GCPH).

“Wash your hands well with soap and water, and make sure everyone is up to date on the latest COVID vaccine and annual flu vaccine. We cannot stress enough, stay home when you are sick and keep your kids home when they are sick, to avoid spreading unwanted illnesses to others. Always cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, everyone around you will appreciate it.”

What is RSV?

RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms and is the leading cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children under one in the United States. Most people recover in seven to 14 days. However, RSV can cause serious health risks, especially for infants and children below the age of two.

How RSV spreads

RSV can spread when:
• An infected person coughs or sneezes.
• Getting droplets that contain the virus from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
• Having direct contact with the virus, for example, if an infected person kisses a child’s face.
• Touching an object or surface with the virus, like a toy or a table, and then touching your face before washing your hands.
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days and may become contagious a day or two before showing signs of illness. However, some infants and people with weakened immune systems can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing
How to stop the spread of RSV

If your child has cold-like symptoms:

• Keep your child home when they feel sick, even if they test negative for COVID-19.
• Teach your child to frequently wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• Practice cough and sneeze etiquette — cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, throw the tissue in the nearest garbage can, and wash your hands after you throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
• Children with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than two years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, children with weakened immune systems, or children with neuromuscular disorders.

What to do if your child has symptoms

• People infected with RSV typically develop symptoms within four to six days after exposure.
• Symptoms of RSV infection, which may appear in stages, can include a runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. The only symptoms in very young infants with RSV may be irritability, decreased activity/feeding, and difficulty breathing.
• Children or staff at childcare centers who are ill with RSV or other acute respiratory illness (including cold-like symptoms) should remain home until they are fever-free for a minimum of 24 hours without using fever-reducing medications and their other symptoms have been improving for 24 hours. The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) provides guidance on when a child should return to school or child care in the How Sick is Too Sick? guidance document (en español: ¿Qué tan enfermo es demasiado enfermo?)

When to see your child’s health care provider

• Call a health care professional if your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.
• There is currently no vaccine or treatment for RSV. While RSV testing may be available from a health-care provider, it is neither required nor necessary to return to childcare.
• A drug called palivizumab is available to prevent severe RSV illness in certain infants and children who are at high risk for severe disease. This could include, for example, infants born prematurely or with congenital (present from birth) heart disease or chronic lung disease. If your child is at high risk for severe RSV disease, talk to your healthcare provider.

For more information:

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: RSV in Infants and Young Children (en español)
• American Academy of Pediatrics: RSV: When It’s More Than Just a Cold (en español)