MASSACHUSETTS — The rate of RSV — a respiratory virus that can be serious in children and older adults — has been climbing in Massachusetts for months and continues to do so, according to the most recent data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like similar infections, RSV, or ris spread through contact with an infected person who coughs, sneezes, or otherwise spreads virus-causing germs, officials said. Symptoms are typically mild and short-lived, and can include a runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and fever, officials said.
But RSV can also cause more severe infections such as bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, officials noted. These cases may require hospitalization in patients who are dehydrated or having trouble breathing.
"So, this is the season for RSV and we’re seeing a whole lot of it…a lot of kids with upper viral respiratory infections, cough, runny nose, some fevers, and the thinking with RSV is that it can cause lower viral respiratory infections, so they get spread to your lungs," Dr. John Kelley with Redwood Pediatrics in East Longmeadow told Western Mass News.
With winter still looming, Kelley told the outlet that doctors are also seeing more cases of walking pneumonia in children. It's a less serious version of pneumonia that usually involves a lasting cough and flu-like symptoms — and often develops in children who had RSV first, Kelley said.
RSV and other respiratory illnesses can be prevented with hygiene habits including frequent handwashing, avoiding close contact with sick people, and regular cleaning of surfaces that are touched often, according to the CDC. While viruses go away on their own with supportive care, illnesses like pneumonia which are caused by bacteria require antibiotic treatment.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, annual community outbreaks of RSV infections in the United States typically began in mid-September to mid-November, peaked in late December to mid-February, and had an offset from mid-April to mid-May, data shows.
These patterns were disrupted around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, according to health officials. Data shows that in 2021, RSV circulation began to rise in the spring and peaked in July. The following year, there was a spike in detections and percentage of positive tests over the summer; these numbers peaked in late November through early December before rapidly falling.
This year in Massachussetts, detection rates slowly began to climb in August, an ascent that grew steeper throughout October. Regional and national detection rates have followed a similar trend.
According to the CDC, interventions introduced to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 — like social distancing — reduced transmission of other common respiratory viruses in the United States during times when they ordinarily would have increased or peaked. Disruption of these usual patterns might have occurred as these interventions were relaxed or emphasized during various parts of the year.
"It is too soon to predict when the previous seasonal patterns will return," the CDC said.
In October, the state Department of Public Health launched a new data source for tracking COVID-19, flu and RSV activity in Massachusetts. The new resource combines the existing flu and COVID-19 dashboards into one place and adds information about RSV as it has drawn more attention in recent years because of its risk to children.
"Our goals are to focus on metrics that are useful at this time for public health action and for individuals to make informed decisions about their choice of activity and use of prevention tools," State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown said in a news release.