‘Extremely unusual’: Doctors concerned about a summer spike in RSV cases

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – COVID-19 isn’t the only virus making the rounds in Utah. Healthcare workers are also seeing a rise in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV, which is very unusual for this time of year.

The calendar says August, but the Utah’s RSV numbers are at Winter-like levels, according to Dr. Per Gesteland, a pediatrician at University of Utah Health and Primary Children’s Hospital.

“Our lab confirmed levels are sort of what we might see in early January as we start to buckle down as a hospital and get ready for a surge of patients with respiratory illness,” Dr. Gesteland said Wednesday. “RSV happening like it’s happening right now is extremely unusual.”

Dr. Gesteland says RSV disappeared last Winter as patients took precautions against COVID, but is now making the rounds, putting some children and adults in intensive care units.

“RSV tends to be hard on the very young,” he said. “It can also be hard on elderly folks, people older than 65, particularly if they have lung disease or heart disease, and it can also affect people in the middle that have underlying conditions that can be exacerbated by viral infections, things like asthma, or even congestive heart failure.”

RSV’s cold-like symptoms can mirror COVID-19 symptoms, and the only way to differentiate is testing. Dr. Gesteland, the father of school-age kids, is concerned about both viruses.

“Because of the large population of children who are still susceptible to COVID-19, especially with the Delta variant raging and now with RSV starting to pick up, I think there’s a really strong argument for putting masks on our children when they go back to school,” he said. “Why is that super-important to me? Well, I don’t want to have people get sick and die unnecessarily. I also think there’s a real chance that a surge in COVID-19 and a surge in RSV might start to line up, and then we really start to put additional strain on the healthcare system.”

To check the RSV case levels in your county, you can go to Intermountain Healthcare’s GermWatch page here.

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