Jeff Kahn

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn

A common cold virus called the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is seeing an unprecedented spike in the summer months.

While RSV and other respiratory viruses are common seasonal viruses for the winter months, safety measures like social distancing, handwashing and wearing masks delayed the outbreak of RSVs.

Children's Medical Center in Dallas has seen 129 cases from June 27 through July 3.

RSVs typically emerge in late fall and remain until early spring. However, signs of RSV outbreak began in the middle of April before exponentially increasing by early May. While the percentage of Texas patients testing positive for RSV was around averaged around 0.29% of the 1,944 tested in April, the percentage rose to 10% by early June then 20% by the end of the month.

“This is an international observation,” Dr. Jefferey Kahn, infectious disease specialist at Children’s Health said. “This is quite a profound shift in what we typically observe pre-pandemic.” 

While localized strands of RSVs have broken out recently, Kahn said a notable exception to the pattern was the influenza virus.

“The epidemiology for influenza is typically three or four strains starting in the east, and they circulate the globe,” he said. “They are the same strains that circulate in Asia, Australia and the Americas, while these RSVs are fort the most part local or regional outbreaks, so the strains in Dallas are different from the strains in New York or London or South Africa. Influenza is quite different in that regard from other viruses.” 

While adults typically experience mild cold symptoms or no symptoms with RSVs, Kahn said respiratory viruses can present significant issues in young children – especially children who are younger than a year old.

“My advice to parents, grandparents and guardians out there is that if they have young children, they have to be very careful because they can bring these viruses into the house, and the children may get infected,” Kahn said. “If you have a child in your house, continue to wear a mask outside. Continue handwashing. Try to maintain as much social distancing as you can. That's what's going to stop the spread of these viruses. We've proven that.”

While the trend is expected to return to normal, it is currently unknown whether or not RSVs and other seasonal viruses will return this fall.

“Even though many of us have been immunized to COVID, we're susceptible to other respiratory viruses,” Kahn said. “These low-tech things we do  wearing a mask, washing our hands, social distancing, really work. That's the bottom line.”

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