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Wisconsin sees big jump in RSV cases, a child respiratory illness usually seen in winter

Virus Outbreak Child Care
Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 03, 2021

Wisconsin doctors warn a childhood illness usually seen in the winter is seeing a big jump in cases in the middle of summer. Cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV are on the rise.

Dr. Gregory DeMuri, a pediatric infectious disease expert at UW Health, says the illness mainly effects children. RSV can cause coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing and in some cases pneumonia.

RSV spike in kids

"The symptoms are very similar to that they would be with any other respiratory virus, including COVID, and that includes a fever,” said DeMuri.

In a typical year, the virus peaks in the winter and dips in the summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DeMuri says he rarely sees cases in the summer, but not this year.

Dr. Gregory DeMuri
Dr. Gregory DeMuri, a pediatric infectious disease expert at UW Health, is seeing an uptick of RSV cases.

The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene reports during the week of July 17 of last year, less than 1 percent of children tested positive for RSV, resulting in about 10 cases statewide. During that same week this year, 54 kids tested positive, bringing the positivity rate to 4 percent.

Next week, the state lab says the positivity rate will double, jumping to 8 percent and impacting more than 150 children.

RSV spike in kids

"I think it has to do something with the pandemic of course,” said DeMuri. "That is because we've been social distancing and we've been wearing masks and now when kids are mixing again, the viruses are just taking advantage of that opportunity."

Between January and June of 2020, the state lab reported 1,844 RSV cases. A majority of cases came in January and February before the pandemic. At that same time this year, the state has only seen 177 cases.

Dr. Jeffrey Britton
Dr. Jeffrey Britton, pediatrician at Aurora Health Center in Sheboygan, is starting to see RSV cases.

In Sheboygan, a pediatrician at Aurora Health Center, Dr. Jeffrey Britton, says he just started to see some of his first cases of RSV, but knows more are coming.

"I think depending on how the next few months go, I think it's possible that we'll see sort of increased RSV throughout the entire winter. That the season will just kind of go on and on and on,” said Britton.

He warns that what is happening with RSV could also happen with the flu. Britton says the best way for parents to protect their kids is to get them the flu vaccine.

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