NH doctors seeing more RSV cases earlier in the year

Oct. 28—Pediatricians in New Hampshire and around the country this fall are noticing more cases of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, noting that the common seasonal virus seems to have arrived earlier than usual.

"We're definitely seeing it a lot here in our office," said Jennifer Packard, a pediatrician and internist with Catholic Medical Center.

Tests can diagnose the virus in children and adults, and while adults usually aren't affected, the virus can put older adults and people with compromised immune systems in the hospital.

Babies and toddlers also are vulnerable to the virus, said pediatrician Loretta Chou of St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, while school-aged kids may appear just to have a cold — though they can pass the highly contagious virus to vulnerable people around them.

RSV usually crops up at the end of fall, but Packard said this year she started seeing cases in the late summer and is seeing more cases than usual.

"There are a lot of theories," she said, mostly revolving around the ripple effects of COVID. Over the past two winters, Packard and Chou said, people isolated themselves more and wore masks. Those COVID-era precautions are a thing of the past for most, but winter colds, flus and RSV are still alive and well.

At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, with the state's largest children's hospital, Pediatric Hospital Medicine Section Chief Samantha House said the hospital has seen more emergency visits for children with bronchiolitis stemming from RSV and other common viruses.

"This mirrors regional and national trends and is straining inpatient capacity at our regional medical centers, as it is across the country," House said in an email.

Nashua and Manchester have not seen strained capacity yet, but Packard and Chou say they are closely watching as Boston-area hospitals stretch to care for all the children with respiratory illnesses this fall. Some hospitals have had to send patients to other parts of Massachusetts for care.

Packard and Chou recommended families keep an eye out for high fevers in their babies and toddlers and look closely if they seem to be having trouble breathing.

If babies are having trouble eating, that also could be a sign that they are not breathing easily, Packard said.

Packard added a very runny nose, "like a faucet," she said, to the list of symptoms for families to keep an eye out for.

There's no medication to make the virus go away, Packard and Chou said — the best approach is to manage symptoms. At home that might mean a fever-reducing medication, while hospitals can help babies, children and adults who are not getting enough oxygen. Chou suggested sleeping in the same room with babies who have RSV, to make sure their breathing is normal.

Symptoms are usually at their worst four or five days after they start, Packard said, before resolving.