Saline County sees 'significant uptick' in respiratory illness RSV

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (commonly referred to as RSV) is filling up hospitals across the nation with children at a higher rate this year.

Its spike early on in the flu season is prompting medical professionals to provide more education to families in hopes of mitigating its spread. But it’s not just RSV parents should be vigilant for, local experts say.

Jason Tiller, Saline County Health Department director, said people in the healthcare community are worried that the combination of influenza, COVID-19 and RSV could overwhelm healthcare services, which have still not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the health department, it’s about… educating (people) on what measures to take to protect themselves and others,” Tiller said.

High rates of respiratory illness seen across Kansas, nationwide

RSV is the most common cause of infant hospitalization for respiratory illness.
RSV is the most common cause of infant hospitalization for respiratory illness.

The combination of circulating respiratory viruses has already led to bed and staffing shortages at some Kansas hospitals that provide care for pediatric patients.

In an email to local health entities, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said emergency department visits for children due to respiratory viruses are also increasing across Kansas.

National influenza hospitalization rates for children are already more than 10 times higher this year than they have been in the previous 10 years – 2.1 per 100,000 this year; 0.0-0.2/100,000 for the prior 10 years – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu season, the time where most people contract the Influenza A virus, usually runs from October through May, with the peak being between December and February. RSV season usually begins in November and fades around March.

But both viruses appeared early in what will be the first in several years COVID-19 measures are not widely implemented.

Tiller said Saline County is working to provide as much education to the public as they can about the increased rates ahead of the holiday season. RSV and influenza are not as heavily tracked as COVID-19, Tiller said, so exact local numbers can be hard to pinpoint.

“From what I’m hearing, though, anecdotally from local providers is that they have seen a significant uptick in respiratory illness, flu, RSV in the community, just like we’re seeing this increase of it nationwide, too,” Tiller said.

How to protect your child from RSV.
How to protect your child from RSV.

Reminders for parents and children

It’s hard not to sound like a broken record after the COVID-19 pandemic, Tiller said, but best practices still include a lot of what was frequently communicated during that time.

Especially for people who are providing childcare services, the health department is reminding people to:

  • Stay home if they are sick and stay away from others who appear ill.

  • Practice good cough etiquette (turn head away from others, cough into an arm or a tissue, discard tissue).

  • Keep hands clean; wash hands frequently (20 seconds with soap and water) especially after coughing or touching high-touch services.

  • Clean high-touch surfaces often, like doorknobs, car handles, phones and keys.

  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • Mask up if levels of respiratory illness are high, especially if your child has a chronic illness.

  • Seek medical care early to get the most benefit from antiviral treatment options for influenza and COVID-19.

  • Do not take antibiotics they have leftover or are given by a friend or family member. These will not help with viral infections and may cause side effects.

People should be cautious around infants or young children who were born prematurely, have chronic lung or heart disease or a weakened immune system, as they are more at risk for contracting and spreading respiratory illnesses.

People should call their healthcare provider if children are having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.

Being cautious during large holiday gatherings

Tiller said the healthcare community and people at large have a lot to be thankful for in the downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a time where social gatherings and getting back together with family and friends remold intimate connections that were stripped from the world just two years ago.

But before people go to gatherings, Tiller and the greater healthcare community advise people to think beyond themselves ahead of the holiday season.

“If you have any kind of illness symptoms like that, if you just take a few more minutes to be cognitive of that impact on other people around you before you go to big holiday gatherings, you might have an opportunity to prevent some really bad outcomes,” Tiller said.

The Saline County Health Department provides walk in flu shots weekdays and walk in COVID-19 boosters on Thursdays. Parents can get additional information about RSV by contacting the health department at (785) 826-6600.

This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: RSV on rise in Saline County; officials warn of COVID, influenza risk