Health & Science

Houston-area RSV cases are unusually high with increased number of hospitalizations, expert says

RSV is usually a mild, respiratory virus that mostly affects children. But it can be serious for some young patients.

Memorial Hermann and UTHealth hospitalizations are up due to an unusually high number of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases.

RSV is usually a mild, respiratory virus that mostly affects children. But it can be serious for some.

As children attend daycare and return to pre-pandemic routines, the virus is able to spread more easily. Dr. Michael Chang, pediatric physician for infectious diseases at Memorial Hermann, said some patients are being admitted to the ICU.

"I think over the last three or four days, though, actually, we’ve probably seen a plateau in the number of new admissions per day as well as in the number of positive tests," Dr. Chang explained. "So we’re still at increased volume, but it’s kind of leveled off. So, we’re not seeing just, like, new admissions every day with increasing numbers of new admissions."

Health experts say RSV is usually an annual occurrence and pre-COVID it typically occurred during the winter. Preventative measures in place due to COVID-19 in 2020 helped cut down the numbers of hospitalizations. Fast forward to summer of 2021, there was a huge surge of RSV in July.

"I was definitely not expecting such another big surge so soon, just because if we were anticipating that people’s immune systems and behaviors would be similar or back to baseline, then RSV should sort of act like that, too," Chang said. "Essentially, what we’re having is like, two surges of RSV in what would normally be a single season."

According to the Texas Pediatric Society 125,000 infants are hospitalized each year with the virus. Experts are encouraging parents to be on alert.

"In most cases it’s going to look like a cold, which is to say runny nose, congestion, sore throat, potentially some cough. If you’re under five, then you can get more severe disease where the virus, when it goes down into the smaller areas of the lungs, it can cause a lot of inflammation and it can cause a lot of mucous production and it can cause the small airways to become slightly obstructed," Chang said. "So younger kids can start wheezing even if they’ve never wheezed before, those are reasons that you’d want to go seek medical attention."