NPR’s Audie Cornish talks to Dr. Sara Goza, physician and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, about who is hardest hit by RSV, a common cold virus that is surfacing in the South.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
There’s another virus that the CDC is warning Americans about — interseasonal respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Now, for otherwise healthy adults, RSV is usually mild and just feels like a cold. But there is an increase in the number of cases among young children. And for infants, RSV can lead to more serious conditions — bronchitis and pneumonia. The thing is, an increase like this is unheard of during the warmer months. RSV usually shows up in the fall, in the winter. dr. Sara Goza, a Georgia pediatrician and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, joins us to discuss what doctors are seeing. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
SARA GOZA: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: Tell us when you and other pediatricians started to realize you were dealing with RSV, but more specifically, dealing with it after what’s considered his typical season.
GOZA: Sometime in May and June, we suddenly started seeing children come in with viral illnesses that weren’t COVID. And they were very typical of RSV, especially in the younger children. And so it actually started at a strange moment for us. Usually we are done with RSV by the summer.
CORNISH: I understand the numbers are higher in terms of cases and also in severity. What does that look like? I don’t know how it is diagnosed.
GOZA: It’s diagnosed by kids who come in with a runny nose and trouble breathing. So many of the babies under one year old will have trouble breathing. They stop eating because they can’t breathe and eat at the same time. And they squeak, so they’re short of breath. And if they have serious breathing problems, they do need to be hospitalized for a checkup. And they often end up in intensive care for this. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year of age.
CORNISH: Help us understand how widespread the current wave is and which parts of the country it is most felt in.
GOZA: You know, the CDC reports that the South is seeing the highest number of cases. But anecdotally, we’re hearing from members — AAP members — across the country that everyone is starting to see more respiratory syncytial virus and other viruses. And we think that really has to do with the fact that people go out more, they’re together. People wear fewer face masks. As public health measures are reduced, we will see more viruses in the future.
CORNISH: If people are slowing down wearing masks, and because we’ve seen some sort of unequal vaccination rate across the country, what are you worried about? As we mentioned, we’re talking to you from Georgia, and many southern states have low COVID vaccination rates.
GOZA: You know, we’re very concerned that as we start to relax restrictions on public health measures, we’re going to see a lot of other viruses come back too, and other diseases that will spread as people become more open to being together without distance. and without wearing masks. We hope that people will continue to wash their hands regularly and stay home when they are sick.
CORNISH: What is the advice you give parents and caregivers about how much concern they should have about RSV or other types of respiratory illness as we move into the summer and fall?
GOZA: I think parents should pay attention to what’s going on with their kids. Younger children who were at home and who were not exposed to other children during the pandemic are at greater risk of contracting these viruses if they come out. We don’t know if they’ll be more serious, but they’re at a higher risk of getting them because they haven’t been exposed to them before, while children are normally exposed to these viruses over the course of a year and build up some. immunity to it. Some kids won’t have that because they’ve been home and protected from these viruses for the past year.
CORNISH: Dr. Sara Goza is a pediatrician and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Thank you for your time.
GOZA: Thanks for having me.
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