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Phoebe Warns of Increase in Respiratory Virus Cases As RSV Awareness Month Begins

Albany, GA | September 30, 2022 – Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are on the rise in southwest Georgia and across the state.  RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but it can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

“Almost every child will contract RSV at some point before their second birthday.  Most children recover in a week or so, but occasionally, RSV can lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia and require hospitalization,” said Grace Davis, MD, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Medical Director of Pediatric Services.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 58,000 children under age five are hospitalized each year in the US because of RSV.  Those at greatest risk for severe illness include:

  • Premature infants
  • Very young infants
  • Children younger than two with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Children with neuromuscular disorders

To protect premature babies, Phoebe provides information about RSV and tips on how to protect their babies to parents of all infants discharged from its neonatal intensive care unit.  The NICU also screens all patients to see which infants meet the criteria to be given a medication that helps prevent serious lung disease in at-risk infants.

“High-risk babies often do not have enough natural antibodies to help them fight the virus and avoid serious complications.  For those babies, we prescribe a synthetic antibody medication that is very successful at preventing serious lung disease caused by RSV, but it is also important for parents to take other steps to help their children avoid infection,” said Erwinson Bassig, MD, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Medical Director of Neonatology.

Anyone who may be around young children or others at high risk of serious complications from RSV should take precautions to ensure they do not unknowingly spread the virus.  Those precautions include:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and objects
  • Stay home when you are sick

Washing your baby’s toys, clothes and bedding often, keeping your baby away from crowds, young children and people with colds, and not letting anyone smoke in your home or near your baby are also steps that can provide extra protection against RSV.

While RSV may be contracted any time of year, it is often most common in the fall.  According to the latest statistics from the CDC, the number of confirmed RSV cases in Georgia has been rising fairly steadily for the last several months.

“In the last few weeks, we have seen more hospitalizations due to RSV, as well a marked increase in the number of RSV patients seeking care in our emergency centers and outpatient clinics, and that trend likely will continue,” said James E. Black, MD, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Interim Chief Medical Officer.  “This is common this time of year, and it’s certainly nothing to panic about.  However, we do want people – especially parents and those who work in schools and day care centers – to be aware of the illness and take steps to prevent its spread,” he added.

Common early symptoms of RSV may include runny nose, cough and decrease in appetite.  Very young infants may also show signs of irritability, decreased activity and pauses while breathing.

If your child is having trouble breathing, you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.  For treatment of less severe symptoms, call your pediatrician.  You can also request an immediate appointment at a Phoebe Urgent Care Clinic through the Phoebe Access Mobile App or or by calling the urgent care location you would prefer to visit.

October is National RSV Awareness Month, promoted by the American Association of Respiratory Care and the National Coalition for Infant Health.