CDC warns atypical RSV spike in parts of US puts young kids at risk

A common cold virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is unusually active in southern regions in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This virus, which can cause serious illnesses in some people including young kids, is typically active in the fall and winter seasons. However, due to pandemic-related changes in society, the virus is now appearing later than usual.

In a new advisory, the CDC explained that the US typically experiences around 58,000 hospitalizations related to RSV in kids under the age of 5, as well as around 177,000 hospitalizations involving adults 65 years and older. Of those who are hospitalized, the CDC says there are around 100 to 500 deaths involving the very young and around 14,000 deaths involving the very old.

While these infections mostly happen during the cold and flu seasons in the US, the CDC says activity from this virus was very low starting in April of last year likely due to pandemic safety measures: face masks, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and more. However, now that many people are vaccinated and these rules are loosening, it seems the virus is experiencing a late resurgence in some places.

Public health experts noted an increase in RSV cases starting in late March of this year, with increases observed in places ranging from Kentucky down to Florida and all the way over to Texas and Oklahoma. It's tricky determining the full scope of the illnesses, however, because testing for RSV is limited after the usual illnesses season.

One particular concern is that reduced spread this past cold and flu season may leave infants and toddlers at risk of developing a more severe illness from RSV. When it comes to this virus, the CDC notes, there's no specific treatment available; rather, doctors manage the symptoms of the virus, which vary based on the age of the patient.