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RSV hospitalizations remain high; families urged to call primary care provider for non-emergencies

OHSU thanks community for patience during this public health emergency; Q&A provides information and resources for families
Photo of a kid washing hands in a bathroom sink. To prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, keep sick kids home from school and events; avoid contact with anyone who is sick; wash hands frequently; and, stay up to date on all vaccines. (Getty Images)
To prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, keep sick kids home from school and events; avoid contact with anyone who is sick; wash hands frequently; and, stay up to date on all vaccines. (Getty Images)

Following the Thanksgiving holiday, Oregon Health & Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital continues to face a high number of RSV cases in children who require hospitalization and expects this trend to continue in the coming weeks.

OHSU’s forecast projects RSV hospitalizations, including infants and toddlers, to peak on Nov. 30.

Dana A. Braner M.D.  holding a dog (OHSU)
Dana A. Braner M.D. (OHSU)

“Like other hospitals in the region and across the country, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital is currently admitting a high number of sick patients. Illnesses have hit our communities hard — and this comes on top of extreme health care staffing challenges which were exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Dana A. Braner, M.D., physician-in-chief at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “We expect this spike in illness to continue in the coming weeks. The dedicated staff here at Doernbecher are incredible, and they will continue to provide quality, compassionate care for our patients.”

The best thing parents can do to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses is to continue to practice the same health and hygiene habits learned over the past several years: keep sick kids home from school and events; avoid contact with anyone who is sick; wash hands frequently; and, stay up to date on all vaccines.

Because of the high volume of sick young children requiring emergency services at this time, caregivers and families, unfortunately, may experience long wait times in our emergency departments. Additionally, appointments for urgent, immediate and primary care may take longer to schedule. Except when emergency care is needed, families and caregivers with concerns are urged to first call their primary care provider.

OHSU thanks families for their patience as communities continue to collaborate with the state, and other hospitals and health systems around Oregon, to respond to these challenges and help ensure children have access to the care they need.  

Questions and answers

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. RSV is common, and almost all children will have had an RSV infection by age 2.

Many parents and families are worried about their child’s symptoms, and wondering if they should seek a test. An RSV test is not necessary for the majority of cases, since most cases of RSV result in mild symptoms that can be managed from home; testing would not change the treatment and care recommendations from clinicians.

In the hospital, RSV tests are used to best direct patient care for severe cases.

Who is at risk?

While anyone can be infected with RSV, those at greatest risk for severe illness from RSV include young infants, especially those 6 months and younger, and children younger than 2 years who have chronic conditions or weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms?

People usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected with RSV. Symptoms of RSV infection usually include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever or wheezing. Families can use the Doernbecher symptom tracker app to learn more about their child’s symptoms.

When should I seek guidance and care from my pediatrician?

Not all cases of RSV require a visit to the emergency room, but sometimes a child might experience symptoms that require extra care and attention. Families are urged to first call their pediatrician or health care provider if their child is exhibiting any of the following:

  • Symptoms that worsen or do not start to improve after 7 days
  • A fever (with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F or higher) if they are younger than 3 months (12 weeks)
  • A fever that rises above 104°F repeatedly for a child of any age
  • Poor sleep or fussiness, chest pain, ear tugging or ear drainage

People with questions about COVID-19 should contact their provider.

When should I seek emergency care for my child?

Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two and can be managed with proper feeding, hydration, sleep and use of over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers.

Some cases, however, may require hospitalization or more specialized care. Parents should watch out for several key signs of distress when deciding whether to take their children with RSV to the emergency room. Serious symptoms may indicate lack of oxygen or dehydration. Parents should seek emergency medical care if their child is exhibiting any of the following:

  • The inside of the child’s mouth is blue
  • Their breathing is extremely labored (a helpful example of RSV’s effects on a child’s breathing can be found here)
  • They aren’t taking in or holding down fluids and haven’t urinated in 8 hours
  • They are severely lethargic and you are struggling to wake them

How can I keep my child safe and healthy?

As more children become hospitalized with RSV, the best thing parents and caregivers can do to keep their children healthy and safe is to practice all the measures that were emphasized during the pandemic: 

  • Keep sick kids home from school and events
  • Wear a mask in public spaces
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces
  • Stay up to date on all routine vaccinations, including flu shots and COVID-19 boosters
  • Limit infants’ exposure to frequent visitors and crowds, especially if they are at risk for severe illness and/or younger than 12 weeks of age

Why are we seeing a spike in cases and hospitalizations?

With changes in weather and the return to school and other indoor activities, fall is predictably a time when more children have viral respiratory illnesses. While these illnesses generally do not result in hospitalization, this year more of these infections have resulted in a higher number of children requiring admission to hospitals. It’s likely children’s immune systems are not as prepared to fight the virus this year because they were not exposed during the pandemic, when masking, physical distancing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces was common.


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