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Symptoms of RSV are similar to those of the common cold and flu, including coughing, sneezing, fever, and runny nose. The condition can also cause severe breathing problems, weakness, irritability, and loss of appetite in infants. There is no treatment for infection beyond symptom control, including oxygen supplementation or fluids for dehydration.
In general, Hennessy says, RSV symptoms are most intense around day four or five, “but this year it didn’t peak until much later, so kids are sicker for a longer period of time than we normally expect.”
Recovery also takes longer, Hennessy says, with a normal RSV hospital stay of just two to three days and recent pediatric patients requiring five to seven days in the facility and more intensive support.
“Usually we can treat them on the general pediatric floor, but a lot of them have to be cared for in our pediatric intensive care unit, which is a surprise,” Hennessy says.
Gundersen’s La Crosse campus has an 18-bed NICU, a four-bed PICU, and a 12-bed general pediatric ward, and Hennessy notes, “Between COVID and other diseases that bring children in and RSV, we’re quite limited in space. and the number of patients we can handle in our hospital.”
As COVID cases continue to increase and school resumes, general prevention tactics remain necessary. Young people under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, so flu shots, sanitation, distancing and the use of face coverings remain best practices to limit the spread and contraction of all viruses.