Doctors and hospitals warn public about increase in RSV cases

Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 6:35 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - About a dozen pediatricians and two major Dubuque area hospitals released warnings about an increase in respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, cases on Friday.

These pediatricians said the increase in cases is increasing the number of hospitalizations, which they believe will strain resources as flu season begins. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said in October it expects flu season to begin earlier than normal this year. According to the latest Flu Activity Map from the CDC, Iowa’s flu activity increased and some states in the South are under the “very high” category.

John Callahan, who is one of the pediatricians who signed the letter, said his clinic had seen a 50% increase in RSV cases. He said he’s never experienced a similar increase in RSV cases and blames the jump on COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

“The precautions that we took did a great at mitigating lots of respiratory illnesses, which at the time was what we needed,” Callahan said. “But, that led to a lack of immunity over the last several years for many children from RSV as well as other illnesses they would typically be infected with and now with the resumption of the typical seasonality of this illness and with kids out in daycare and school without the precautions, we had before. They are getting infected with this all at once.”

Danielle Wales, who is a clinical assistant professor at the State University of New York - Albany made a similar hypothesis for the jump in cases earlier this month.

“One reason for the early start could be that our immune systems are ‘out of practice’ dealing with the full complement of respiratory viruses that surround us due to reduced exposure over the past two and a half years,” she said. “Plus, now that masking and social distancing are less common, viruses can spread more easily.”

Sarah Ekstrand, who is a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, said it’s encouraging all Iowans to get vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19. She said the department is communicating with healthcare partners and mentioned limiting visitors to healthcare facilities can decrease the spread of respiratory viruses.

Both MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center and UnityPoint Health - Finley Hospital announced on Friday it would no longer allow visitors under the age of 18 unless there is an extraordinary circumstance, like severe illness and end of live visitations. The hospitals said the visitation limits were due to an increase in RSV and other respiratory illnesses.