Respiratory syncytial virus | This skyrocketing disease

Fever, cough and runny nose: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, which can sometimes be mistaken for a cold, is hitting toddlers hard this season. Children’s hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of young patients with complications. Overview of the situation in seven questions.

Posted yesterday at 7:45 p.m.

Alice Girard Bosse

Alice Girard Bosse
The Press

What is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

It is a virus that causes infection of the lungs and respiratory tract. It runs every year during the cold season, and has “for decades,” says Dr.r Christos Karatzios, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. But this month, the number of infections in children is “skyrocketing”, he notes. In the last week, the positivity rate has risen to 11%, indicates the Dre Rodica Gilca, medical advisor at the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec. “Before the pandemic, it was around 1%. It was really very low,” she says.

What are the symptoms ?

In healthy adults and children over 2 years old, the virus mainly causes cold-like symptoms of a runny nose, cough and fever, lists the Dr Karatzios. In immunocompromised infants and children, however, the virus can cause many problems. “Some of them can’t breathe, because their lungs are full of mucus, and most of the time they need oxygen or intubation,” says the specialist. “For the pediatric population, it is much more dangerous than COVID-19”, adds the Dr Antonio D’Angelo, head of emergencies at CHU Sainte-Justine.

What are the consequences of this increase in infections in hospitals?

At the Montreal Children’s Hospital, about 70 to 80 percent of children presenting with a respiratory virus have contracted RSV, says Dr.r Karatzios. “The children are very sick. “Last week, two children hospitalized on the floor of the Dr Karatzios had to be transferred to intensive care. “Intensive care is overflowing and emergencies are overflowing. We are at almost 200% of capacity, ”he laments. The situation is similar to the CHU Sainte-Justine. “Our intensive care units are full of respiratory patients. We no longer know where to put sick patients, ”exclaims the Dr D’Angelo.

How is the virus transmitted?

“It is transmitted through the respiratory secretions of sick people, especially when people sneeze or touch surfaces”, indicates the Dre Gilca. The virus can remain in the environment for a few hours, specifies the specialist. “It’s extremely contagious,” adds Dr.r D’Angelo.

Why is there a sharp rise at the moment?

“For the first two years of the pandemic, there were public health measures in place, so there was almost no circulation of the usual viruses that we know of. It was just COVID-19, ”explains the Dre Gilca. Many children have never had RSV, so they have not developed immunity to it. “When we relaxed the measures, it opened the door to other viruses and they started to spread,” she said. A peak of RSV virus infection also took place in the summer of 2021, shortly after the relaxation of sanitary measures, recalls the Dr Karatzios.

How to protect yourself?

You must wash your hands, avoid contact with sick people and do not touch your face with your hands, lists the Dr Karatzios. Above all, he suggests improving the state of ventilation in schools. “After almost three years of a respiratory pandemic, it is really frustrating not to see a concrete directive or plan by the Ministry or the authorities regarding the air in schools,” he said.

When to go to the hospital?

A child under 3 months old with a respiratory virus and fever should be seen in the emergency room immediately, says Dr.r Karatzios. Older children who are no longer able to feed themselves, who have to take deep breaths or who change color should also go to the emergency room immediately, he says. For the other children, the Dr Karatzios recommends keeping them at home for a few days to prevent them from infecting those around them. Nasal cleansing with saline solution can be done to make breathing easier, while acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be given to the child for relief.

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