RSV cases on the rise in Vigo County

Oct. 31—A common respiratory infection known as RSV tends to be seasonal, rising in the winter months, but it's ahead of schedule and a bit more widespread this fall.

The ailment — respiratory syncytial virus — can affect adults, but its most serious complications show up in youngsters, particularly those ages 2 and younger. No vaccine for RSV exists at this time.

RSV cases have risen this fall nationally, statewide and at Vigo County emergency rooms and clinics, according to the Vigo County Health Department.

Dr. Jim Turner, who practices at Union Health convenient care clinics and serves as Vigo County Board of Health president, has seen the uptick in cases. About eight to 10 children daily are being treated at the Union Hospital pediatric unit, he said.

"We've been seeing increases in RSV for three weeks or so, and it doesn't seem to be slowing," Turner said Monday afternoon, with a handful of more RSV cases on his schedule that day. "This is a little higher outbreak than we've seen in the past, and a little earlier than in past years."

RSV becomes problematic for toddlers and infants because of their still-developing respiratory system. In kids under 2, their "bronchial trees" are like rubber hoses, where mucus can get trapped, Turner explained. After age 2, those bronchial tree tubes become more like pipes, allowing older children and adults to clear their throats more easily and, thus, making RSV like a cold or flu for older people.

"That's why it's particularly troublesome for children under 2," Turner said.

Its symptoms in young children include a wet cough, runny nose, fever, decrease in appetite, sneezing and wheezing, Shelby Jackson, health educator for the Vigo County Health Department, said Monday. RSV can be particularly serious for children with other medical conditions and weakened immune systems.

For most children with RSV, if they're alert, consolable and playing a little bit, they're generally OK, aside from the symptoms, Turner said. But with little ones, especially infants one to three months old, who are lethargic, retaining a fever and experiencing breathing difficulties, parents and caregivers should seek medical help such as an ER visit, Turner said.

This fall's increase in RSV cases complicates an already difficult landscape of infectious diseases, coupled with influenza and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "All three of those communicable diseases together is a really tough time," Turner said.

The pandemic likely has played a role in the surge in RSV, which has been noticed in early childcare providers such as daycare centers and preschools, as well as parents, according to the county health department.

"We're coming out of a two-year period when there was limited contact, and now that we're all back together it's spreading faster," Jackson said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says annual community outbreaks of RSV infections in the U.S. "typically occur during late fall, winter, and early spring. There may be variation in the timing of outbreaks between regions and between communities in the same region."

In Vigo County, "RSV is a major concern at this time," Jackson said. "The inpatient pediatric census has increased significantly over the last several weeks, not only in Vigo County but across the state."

Now that it's here, the precautions recommended for parents, families and others around children resemble those for COVID-19 and the flu. Preventative care includes vigorous and regular handwashing, avoiding close contact with people outside of your household, maintaining a safe distance from others.

It's also important to remember that while adults typically don't experience severe symptoms with RSV, they can carry the virus and spread it to children, Jackson said. However, Jackson also pointed out CDC data showing that RSV infections can be dangerous for certain adults, especially those over 65 or those with chronic heart and lung disease, and weakened immune systems.

Supportive care for youngsters with RSV includes having them drink plenty of fluids, especially water, and talking with a healthcare provider to manage fever, pain and discomfort, Jackson said.

"It is key for caregivers to keep infants and children healthy by covering coughs and sneezes, practicing proper hand hygiene, cleaning frequently touched surfaces and preventing interactions/exposure to individuals with cold-like symptoms," Jackson said.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or