RSV expected to strain pediatric hospitals in Oregon

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Photo of a mother holding her infant and a thermometer.

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are increasing nationwide and are likely to rise in Oregon. This will strain the state’s hospital system, especially combined with an expected increase in flu and COVID-19 cases this winter. Pediatric hospital capacity is limited in Oregon and is expected to be heavily strained based on Oregon Health & Science University’s most recent COVID-19 forecast, which includes data on RSV.

RSV is incredibly common. Most children experience an RSV infection by their second birthday, and we are reinfected throughout our lives. RSV symptoms are the same as the common cold and usually mild (runny nose, cough, sneezing, fever, loss of appetite). But RSV can cause severe disease in children under 2 years old (especially infants under 6 months old) and older adults.

Things to know about RSV:

  • It causes cold-like symptoms but can cause severe disease in young children and older adults.
  • It’s the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in infants younger than 1 year old.
  • An estimated 58,000 to 80,000 children younger than 5 are hospitalized in the United States due to RSV infection each year.
  • An estimated 60,000 to 120,000 adults are hospitalized, and 6,000 to 10,000 adults die due to RSV infection each year.
  • RSV infection each year.
  • There is no RSV vaccine.
  • Flu and COVID-19 vaccines do not protect against RSV. 

The same prevention measures we use against COVID-19 are effective against other respiratory illnesses, such as RSV and the flu. RSV and flu cases have been low the past two years due to masking and social distancing. These viruses have returned this year now that fewer people are taking those safety measures. 

How to reduce RSV transmission:

  • Stay home when sick.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds.
  • Keep your hands away from your or your child’s face.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are often touched, such as doorknobs and electronic devices.
  • Consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, especially if you or someone in your home is at high risk for severe disease.

People at high-risk include:

  • Young children, in particular children under 2
  • Children with underlying medical conditions
  • People of all ages with weakened immune systems
  • Adults 65 and older, especially those with chronic heart or lung disease

What to do if your child has RSV symptoms:  

  • If symptoms are mild, keep your child home.
  • Use over-the-counter medicine to manage fever and pain, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to children.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

If symptoms are severe or quickly get worse, contact a health care provider or pediatrician before going to an emergency room. If you do not have a health care provider, call 211 for help finding one. Warning signs that require immediate attention include difficulty breathing (or breathing very quickly) and dehydration.

Because many RSV symptoms are the same for other respiratory diseases, the only way to know if you or your child has RSV is to be tested. In most situations it is not necessary to be tested. We often never learn what virus causes our cold-like symptoms, and that is OK.

RSV resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: