Children’s hospitals are dealing with an ‘unprecedented’ RSV surge

I was talking to my brother the other day about how much healthier we stayed wearing masks that we will probably keep them on in crowded environments like planes/airports and public transportation from now on. And it looks like we made the right decision because maybe they’ll help with this latest health crisis. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases are surging and since it poses such a threat to young children, many children’s hospitals are at capacity. One of the issues is RSV is a late fall/winter virus but it’s been surging in summer months since last year. That’s a problem in and of itself but especially because it means kids brought it into the school year. With schools and daycare programs back to full attendance and no mask mandates, there’s more and more cases every day.

An unseasonably early spike in respiratory syncytial virus cases among young children is pushing some hospitals to capacity.

RSV, as it’s called, is a respiratory virus that mostly manifests as a mild illness with cold-like symptoms in adults but can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis in very young children. It can be life-threatening in infants and young adults.

Most years, infections typically occur in the late fall and winter, often overlapping with flu season. But at least since last year, physicians have begun seeing surges starting during summer months.

“Last year, more people were wearing face masks and children were more likely to stay home while sick,” Dr. Laura Romano said in Cook Children’s in-house publication.

“This year, parents are sending their children to daycare and school for the first time following two years of the pandemic. … Children who haven’t been previously exposed to respiratory viruses are getting sick,” Romano said.

Health officials in King County, Wash., are also alarmed as they brace for more cases once winter hits. Dr. Russell Migita with Seattle Children’s Hospital told King 5 News they are seeing about 20 to 30 positive cases every day, adding that those are “unprecedented” figures.

RSV symptoms are similar to a cold and can be harmless in adults, but the CDC says children under the age of 5 are the most affected group. According to the agency’s data, each year approximately 58,000 children in that age range are hospitalized for RSV. The next most vulnerable group are adults over 65, in whom the infection causes 14,000 deaths a year.

RSV can lead to bronchiolitis, an infection that causes airways to become inflamed and clogged with mucus, making it difficult to breathe. If the infection travels to the lung sacs, it can result in pneumonia.

Dr. Sara Goza, physician and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, talked to NPR last year about how the infection presents in infants.

“A lot of the babies under a year of age will have trouble breathing. They stop eating because they can’t breathe and eat at the same time. And they’re wheezing, so they’re in respiratory distress,” Goza said.

Other symptoms include coughing, excessive sleeping and lethargy.

[From NPR]

There is a lot of information there so let me reiterate a few key points. Kids under five are the most vulnerable and run the risk of being hospitalized with extended health issues. Next to them are adults over 65 with the risk of death. RSV is life threatening to everyone, though, so do not leave it untreated. The bad news, not that any of this news is good, is that there is no vaccine for RSV. However, the medical community says make sure to get the flu vaccine, so flu symptoms don’t aggravate RSV symptoms. In addition, wash hands, wear masks and encourage everyone around you to do the same.

Most parents have to send their kids to either daycare or school, which may mean exposure to RSV is unavoidable. As the article said, younger kids haven’t been exposed to RSV, so they are more susceptible. Look for the symptoms mentioned above, especially if there’s lethargy and lack of appetite associated with cold-like symptoms, and check with your doctor if you suspect anything.

Remember when we were all just sacred of the Bogey Man this time of year?

Photo credit: Tima Miroshnichenko and Gustavo Fring of Pexels

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64 Responses to “Children’s hospitals are dealing with an ‘unprecedented’ RSV surge”

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  1. Kati says:

    Preschool teacher here to say we are definitely seeing this! These little ones haven’t been anywhere in the last two years, so they are getting hit hard with every little bug. In addition, parents are sending them when they really should keep them home.

    • Moxylady says:

      There has been a lot of medical literature published on this with the emphasis being that Covid severely harms/ depletes the immune system. It’s been likened to HIV for a number of reasons. That’s what is at the root of these massive numbers. Children have always gotten this. The variable that has changed is not that their immune systems haven’t encountered it before. It’s everywhere and they have. It’s that they have had Covid in the interim and thus…. Here we are. I hate to be that person but the effects of us not protecting ourselves and the
      Government refusing to protect children from Covid are going to be felt for a very very long time.

    • stellar says:

      I worked Preschool, and many teachers especially sent kids to our class. If I called the moms they took it out on us.

  2. Mle428 says:

    I’m currently in the hospital and they have a children’s hospital that shares the ER. My nurse was telling me that kids are waiting 20 hours for beds because they are at capacity.

    • ME says:

      My niece is a doctor at one of the children’s hospital in CT and she’s been pulling 24 hour shifts for months now. This weekend she had 2 and describes the situation as really scary. There are no beds and her hospital has asked FEMA for overflow assistance.

      I hope parents start having their children wear masks (where possible) – it will help.

  3. Southern Fried says:

    Thanks Kati. Worth repeating “parents are sending them when they really should keep them at home”

    • SarahLee says:

      Assuming that the parents have the ability to keep them home – time off from work or flex time. Everyone doesn’t have that privilege.

    • Kaykay says:

      It’s just such a shame that’s how it is. In the nordic countries you get around 80% of your salary for being home taking care of a sick child. That way parents tend to actually let the child stay home instead of being out of options, sending them to school, making things worse for their classmates.

      • ME says:

        That’s why policies need to change so parents can stay home with their sick kids. It would benefit everyone.

    • Vivica says:

      I agree with your sentiment, but I have mixed feelings about this. My kid has been in daycare since she was 8 weeks old. I am only joking about 10% when I say that she has had a runny nose since then. It is the nature of the beast. Now, the recommendation of my pediatrician is that the tell tell sign of illness is if your kid is acting different. Not every runny nose is an issue and not every issue comes with a fever, so using those parameters at all times is just not feasible.

      That being said, now that we *know* rapid respiratory panel test exist, why are we not schilling those out like covid tests? It would make so much sense to just do a home swab and be able to tell what is what leaving the second guessing out of the equation.

  4. LaUnicaAngelina says:

    My 5-year-old nephew was diagnosed with this yesterday after he was sent home from school. His brother is 11 months old. I just shared this post with my sis as a reminder to take precautions to prevent exposure to the baby. How nerve wracking!

  5. Izzy says:

    My stepmom is a school nurse and the thing that aggravates her the most is parents sending obviously sick kids to school. It happened before the pandemic and it’s happening again now. People are just completely inconsiderate, like “it’s just a runny nose,” except that runny nose can put some kids in the hospital.

    • Becks1 says:

      It’s inconsiderate for sure but I think sometimes its a matter of our country’s poor sick leave policies. I work from home so its not a big deal to keep a sick child home (I kept my 8 year old home yesterday because our house has been hit with an awful cold, my head is killing me today.) And even when I was at the office I have tons of sick leave and can use it to take care of a sick kid.

      My husband gets 5 sick days a year. so guess who took off every time our kids were sick, especially in daycare? It was okay because I have a ton of leave like i said above, but some families just don’t have that flexibility between either partner, or they don’t have family around who can help, etc. So you hope you can save that day of sick leave or whatever and send the kid to school with the runny nose and that you won’t get a call from the school nurse.

      i feel like this wasn’t as common over the past two years, because there was more flexibility in a LOT of workplaces and no one wanted someone who even possibly had COVID anywhere near them or in the office etc. But as we return to “normal” I think this is one of the side effects we’re going to see – that people are going to try to do things like work and school while sick because the flexibility has run out at a lot of places.

      Now to be clear some people are just aholes who don’t think of others, but I do think the lack of leave plays a part for some families as well.

      • AlpineWitch says:

        My husband and I would have struggled for years if we had kids, thank God we never had any. Hubby works remotely now but he never had any sick leave paid in the 4 companies he worked for in the last 2 decades.

        I’ve used my five days up after being injured at work (I stayed home 15 days) and then I got a disciplinary action started against me after getting Covid and stay at home for 2 more weeks 6 months later as I couldn’t produce a negative test sooner (I was even tri-vaxxed!). They’ll make me redundant in January after it was clear the injury is permanent.

        I don’t know about the US but if you get sick or injured in the UK, you might as well retire or throw yourself down a bridge.

    • Zan says:

      This is why so many teachers were wary of having kids back in school during the COVID pandemic before vaccinations were available. We know all too well that people send their kids to school while sick and contagious—some because they must work and have no other support or options.
      We had an opportunity to revamp sick leave support, but, disappointingly, fell back on our “personal responsibility” b.s. which makes sure that the people who most need support won’t be able to get it, and the comfortable will continue to do as they please.

    • TigerMcQueen says:

      I’d agree, but two points:

      1. Not everyone lives in circumstances that allow them to take off from work (or work from home) everytime their child gets a cold. Staying home could mean loss of much needed income or even loss of the job if too much time is taken or if it’s taken at the last minute. Also, colds linger, and it’s not like they’re over in a day. Outside of people who work from home, it’s very difficult for most people with office/retail/service jobs to take off several days while their child gets over a cold…and what about when the child gets more than one cold a year? What if their kid gets something beyond a cold? I’ve been in that situation where I’m asking myself, “Should I keep them home for this cold? What if they get the flu this winter? Or a stomach bug? I only have three days of time off left, what should I do?”

      2. Which brings me to the second point. I now have a very flexible job and work remotely 90% of the time, so it’s very easy for me to keep kids home when they’re sick. However, schools don’t like it when kids miss school. Case in point: my kids were out a week with COVID recenlty. They were able to check in every day and do assignments, but they were still marked absent during that week. They missed a half day for their annual physical and missed a day just after school started because they were sick. Did any missed assignments at home (the same day) both days because teachers post stuff online now. Guess who got a letter AND phone call from their school saying they’ve been out an unacceptable amount of time according to our district?

      It’s not just about people being inconsiderate it’s about real life job stressors AND schools pushing attendance. Parents need more support. And schools need to rethink their policies about attendance if the kids is still able to be engaged with lessons at home.

      • Becks1 says:

        UGH, that stinks about the phone calls. My son was so mad last year because he had a COVID exposure and had to quarantine at home for a week, and while there was work posted and he stayed on top of it etc, the days at home still counted as absences on his report card etc and it looked like he had missed all this time when the school was the one mandating he stay home.

      • Concern Fae says:

        And it adds to the parents who start becoming resentful of the public school system. Yes, we need to make sure kids are in school, but if they aren’t we need to know why and be supportive, not an asshole to parents.

        Part of the problem is that too many systems, when told they are being discriminatory in some way, start treating everyone horribly, instead of treating everyone as worthy of respect.

  6. Les says:

    Please be aware adults, particularly older adults can get this as well. It can be deadly. I am recovering from RSV that turned into pneumonia. I caught it flying even though I was fully masked and wiped down everything in my seat area. This is not a mild bug.

    • Juju says:

      Yes I remember my pediatrician describing it as if someone turned a faucet on in your nose…. RSV produces a significant amount of drainage and it is rough, especially for the very young.

    • FhMom says:

      Is there a test for this or is it just process of elimination?
      @Les I hope you feel better soon.

      • Les says:

        Yes it is a rapid antigen test.
        This bug is very contagious and teachers should be notified if your child gets it. My flight was international and people were as usual arguing about mask wearing etc. The drama on flights these days is incredible and when you throw in some different cultures it becomes a sh*t show. The man next to me was eating with his hands, then wiping his hands on his pants and the arm rest. But I’m sure it was the person behind me non-stop coughing for 12 hours that did me in.

      • ME says:

        @ Les

        How do you know you caught it during your flight and not the day before or day after? Does it have a short incubation period? This is scary stuff. People are so damn inconsiderate. Just wearing a f*cking mask. Why is it so hard for people? No one cares about anyone. I hate how this world is.

    • Lucy says:

      My husband’s boss almost died of RSV in December ’19. He is a cancer patient who’s had a marrow transplant, and had the immune system of a baby. He got rsv and was in the icu for more than a week.

      Keep the immune compromised in mind!

    • Jensies says:

      Yeah, my husband and I caught this from my nephew last year. Would definitely not call it mild. We were both out of work for multiple days and felt fatigued for weeks. We’re healthy, 30s/40s. Definitely worse than a cold. You do not want this.

  7. Sarah says:

    My eleven year old has been sick almost non stop since school started. I do keep him home but he’s missing so much school! He has asthma and, when he would get RSV when he was little, he would be sick for a month because it would inevitably develop into pneumonia.

    • Coco Bean says:

      My sister is a NICU nurse and we were talking last night about how bad RSV is right now. Hospitals are so overloaded they are sending RSV patients to beds in the NICU. She understands why but at the same time it makes her and the other nurses REALLY nervous when they are caring for preemies who need a sterile environment.

      I’m a parent of a kindergartner and preschooler and one child or the other has been home the past four weeks. Stomach bugs, multiple colds, we are exhausted. My three year old’s coughing fits are so long and deep in his chest that he threw up while coughing the other day. I know they are getting their immunities being back at school after the past few years but it feels extra rough. Luckily, I don’t have to work right now so home with the kids but I remember how hard it was when my oldest would be home sick from preschool and one of us would have to figure out who could shuffle their schedule around to stay with him. Our country’s policies around sickness leave much to be desired.

      And to you parents out there, continue to wear a mask at home around your sick kids. It’s been saving me even though I’m run down from being up multiple times each night caring for them. Stay healthy out there!


    Not me seeing this as I JUST made the decision to put my 15 month old in daycare. We can’t afford our nanny anymore and my baby boy has been craving socialization. Waaaaaaah! He’s getting the flu shot ASAP.

  9. SarahLee says:

    As I sit at home today with a crummy cold, I was struck that 2 years ago, I would probably have sucked it up and gone to work. Thankfully, I have the luxury of a job that affords flexibility and plenty of PTO time should I need it. I feel for parents who don’t have this luxury and who perhaps can’t stay home with their kids or who have to just send them to school or daycare.

    • Dara says:

      Feel better SarahLee. Even a common cold is no fun. I had what I thought was a cold about a month ago. My first in almost three years. On a whim, I used one of the home COVID tests I had in a drawer – and it was positive. Apparently, for a lot of vaxxed people omicron presents very much like a head cold. The only symptom that clued me in that it might have been COVID was that I lost taste and smell about three days in. If this had been the Before Times I would have been going to work and running errands, and spreading germs everywhere.

  10. CC says:

    Is anyone else distracted by the kid at the top looking just like Chucky in that photo?

    • Willa says:

      Not so much Chucky but a RSV Danny from the Shining. Lol

    • SarahLee says:

      Yes! The thumbnail on the home page is definitely Chucky. And now I also see Danny Torrance. That kid doesn’t have RSV – he’s possessed!

  11. CharlotteW says:

    My toddler has this right now. It’s been pretty horrible. He coughs so hard that he throws up. We went to the doctor yesterday and there’s not a ton we can do right now but wait it out and keep an eye on it to make sure his breathing is okay.

  12. Larissa says:

    My 13 year old had it a couple of months ago, he was so sick, the constant coughing just wrecked him. Ended up having 3 weeks off school, luckily he wasn’t bad enough to need hospital, but I know of friends or friends kids that have ended up there.

  13. Lisbeth says:

    Thank you for the information!

  14. Size Does Matter says:

    My 9yo is currently home with the flu. It struck before we got around to getting the flu shot because he had a different virus at the beginning of October. It’s going to be a bad year for everything.

  15. ME says:

    Hey parents, if your kid is sick, keep them home please. And if they are home sick from school, don’t decide to make a grocery run to Walmart with them. Home means HOME. Oh and for the love of God do NOT let sick kids go out trick or treating ! Be responsible.

    • Twin Falls says:


    • Steph says:

      And you clearly don’t know the place of privilege you’re preaching from. Please read through all the comments. It’s made pretty clear why so many parents can’t keep their kids home for an indeterminate amount of time every time they get a cold.

      • ME says:

        This isn’t a cold we are talking about. This article is about RSV. You do know the difference right? When you send your kid to school sick, you are also risking teachers and other children getting sick. You are then putting other parents in the SAME position you are in. Is that a good thing to do? Yes, by all means, keep sending your sick kids to school so the entire class can get sick and then the hospitals can keep filling up with sick kids (which is happening now). I mean it’s not like the health care workers are facing burn out or anything.

      • ME says:

        Oh and I’d like to add one more thing. Imagine you had an immuno-compromised child. Would your reaction to my comment be different? Who is really speaking from a place of privilege here?

      • Guest says:

        @ME It is not super common to test for RSV where I am because the test is actually quite expensive and there isn’t anything that changes regarding treatment if it’s RSV vs. a cold if your kid is over 6 months. Therefore it’s super possible that a kid has RSV, is presenting with head cold symptoms, and the doctor doesn’t bother to, or recommend, testing. It’s not always as black and white as “if your kid has RSV keep him/her home.” I’m pretty sure my preschooler and toddler both had RSV last month, RSV is all over the place in our town right now, but for both of them it presented as a fairly mild upper respiratory infection. We kept them home as long as they had fevers which is the guideline that we were given by our pediatrician. And it was expensive. I’m a contractor and my husband is self-employed so we don’t get paid if we can’t work but we still have to pay for the daycare days we miss.

      • ME says:

        @ Guest

        But you did the right thing. You kept your kids home when they had fevers, which is what most schools recommend. You didn’t ignore the fact they were sick and send them off to school to get other kids sick, kids who maybe don’t have immune systems as strong as your kids. We live in a very selfish society. No one cares about those who will suffer significantly due to someone else’s carelessness. One kid could get through RSV easily, no issues, others can end up in hospital or even die. Does that matter to no one? Not to mention older people can die from this virus too.

      • Steph says:

        @me, RSV is a virus that causes an upper respiratory infection, a cold. It’s particularly vicious in the really young and elderly, but still a cold.
        And, yes, I would still say the same thing. Bc it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about what is possible and what isn’t. Most people would do the right thing if it is possible, but it’s often not. And when a parent has to choose between someone else’s kids health and keeping a roof over their own, and keeping them nourished they’re going to choose they’re own kids. Stop talking down to other parents and use that energy to fight the real problem.
        PS – knowing how quickly disease spreads amongst school children, why would you have an immune compromised child in such an environment? Bc, you have to right?

      • Guest says:


        Preach. You will get no argument from me about the selfishness of society and the fact that no one gives a flying you know what about the health and well-being of others. It’s wild and hugely disheartening to behold.

      • ME says:

        @ Steph

        I’m not talking “down” on parents. That is your viewpoint. So should immuno-compromised kids be ostracized from society just so you can send your sick kid to school? How is that fair? Immuno-compromised kids have a right to public education. They need to develop social skills and be a part of society too. But by all means, you parents with “perfectly healthy” children should be number one priority. By the way RSV is very dangerous for kids and for the elderly. It’s not something that should just be looked over. This is the problem with society, no one cares about anyone else.

    • dee(2) says:

      @Me the point that others are trying to get across is that everyone that sends their kids to school if they are sick aren’t doing it because they are selfish a-holes who don’t care about the immunocompromised. In the US unfortunately a vast majority of people can’t/don’t work from home, don’t have family that can pitch in to help, and don’t have PTO or sick leave to use. If you are out of the 5 days of sick leave your job offers, and any other day is unpaid it’s a crappy choice but you have to ensure your kids have a home to come to, and food in their bellies. And this is if your job offers it period, plenty do not. If my paycheck at the end of this 80 hours is what pays rent, I can’t have a 64-hour check. I can’t pay rent, buy food, pay utilities, etc. This is the privilege they are speaking of, your comments come across as if the people described above don’t exist, and everyone who has kids who still go to school when they have runny noses are doing it so they can get it another round of golf. It’s crappy on both sides of the equation.

  16. Imara219 says:

    My son is 5 now and in Kinder, but I always clocked RSV season at his then daycare because he has asthma and an early case of RAD as an infant that was a trip to the ER. His daycare would have little signs posted outside of classrooms with warnings about RSV outbreaks and I would always tense. I’m so happy now he’s in school school and I don’t have to worry as much about RSV, but I’m quite familiar with it. I have my son wear a mask when his allergies are acting out really bad.

  17. Christine says:

    They’re estimating at RSV vaccine in 2 years but that’s so long from now. My sister’s daycare had to shut down for a week because of too many sick kids. Not everyone has the resources or privledge to stay home with a sick kiddo. There are a multitude of underlying issues that lead to situations like this. It’s just not that simple.

  18. AmelieOriginal says:

    One of my coworkers who works remotely is in week 2 of dealing with RSV. I think she’s doing a bit better but her toddler son is still dealing with it apparently and pretty miserable.

  19. Steph says:

    I don’t have RSV I have Rhino virus. I need a trip to the emergency room bc I couldn’t breathe. My ER is a well run machine. My only issue with it is that if I’m going I’m sick enough that leaving my home for any reason is a hassle. It was packed. Still running fast and smooth but it was packed. The ER Dr told me they are being over run with non COVID respiratory infections. I’ve got a few friends with non medical roles who work in hospitals and they’ve also told me their hospital ERs are packed with the same thing. So, protect your kids and yourself. It’s going to be a rough winter. I also don’t know how I caught this. It’s highly contagious but I’m always masked in doors.

  20. Caribbean snack says:

    A very simple house remedy for helping and protecting your airways is menthol oil. 5 drops in 1,5- 2 liters of water. 2 cups a day should be enough.

    Drops are spicy but also good tot use. 2-5 drops depending on what you can handle. Make sure to always have some in your medicine cabinet

    • Steph says:

      Is this supposed to be drank or inhaled? I’m willing to try anything right now. The inhaler my Dr gave me is barely working.

  21. chumsley says:

    Our two year old started daycare this month and after his first week (not even a full week, just three days), he got pink eye and a bad cold and then an ear infection. And then I ended up with all three of those too! When we took him to the doctor, luckily he tested negative for Covid, flu and RSV. We expected he would get sick since we’d all been staying away from public spaces, wearing masks, etc. for the past two years and he hadn’t been exposed to anything before, but we didn’t expect him to catch something so fast! I’m so glad that we waited until he got both of his Covid vaccination shots before he started daycare!

  22. Sophie says:

    When my preemie child was a baby, there was an rsv vaccine. But health insurance didn’t cover it so we paid like $3k out of pocket for it. This was 10 years ago so I am not sure what the current situation is.

  23. cleak says:

    RSV is terrifying to me. My son was in the PICU for 2 weeks when he was 2 months old and he very nearly died. It was just awful! This is also concerning as we get to fly season and dual diagnoses of flu and RSV can and do happen; my son had both.

  24. Hannah says:

    I suffer badly with asthma, I’m (almost) 32. My Pulmonologist has a theory. Take with a grain of salt. She says that after 2 1/2 years of lockdowns & WFH, face masks, social distancing, kids not playing together, and playing outside, commuters not squashed together in the tube or bus, office workers not spreading the same germs through office ventilation systems, our immune systems are back to zero. Like we’ve re-set our immune systems and we are now more susceptible to every bug out there. I have been *plagued* with bronchitis and even whooping cough (which I thought was a Victorian disease) Poor little kiddies ❤️‍🩹 I hope this doesn’t become serious. And to those who are thinking of getting a flu jab or immune booster injection this autumn – It seems to be helping me

  25. Briamatia says:

    Mom of two littles under 4 living in King County WA. We took my son to his day care on Monday, after being out for 2 weeks with congestion, to an EMPTY class room. The teachers and 6 of his baby buddies were out sick. It is NO JOKE! Sending solidarity to all the moms not sleeping and dealing with sick babes in the coming weeks/months.

  26. Mika says:

    I live in VA and there’s a high school in my area which had 1,000 kids out sick last week. The school in question only has 2,100 students! I’ve never seen anything like this.

  27. Gelya says:

    Last year with the Delta surge our city had a large RSV outbreak. My area did not have a mask mandate. I was masking. I was in a small thrift store there was a little girl about three just coughing up a lung, drainage, just sick as can be, Her Mom is shopping through the store oblivious.
    I get up to the register the same time as Mom. She is asking for kleenexes. The cashier gives her some, Mom wipes the little girls nose that is just snot filled and then hands the Kleenex back to the cashier to throw away!
    When it was my turn to checkout I told the cashier to sanitize her hands. I would handle my item individually and she was not going to touch them. I said that little girl has RSV. The cashier said So.
    I lost it! I had to explain to her about RSV and how you can have that and Covid at the same time. The other customers in the store didn’t know if you have one infection, you can have another at the same time.
    There are a lot of people who choose to be uneducated.
    I got to my car and washed my face, hands, arms like I was in a pandemic movie. I am so happy to keep a hand washing station when I go out.
    RSV is overwhelming hospitals here again.