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Norton Healthcare warns parents of an unusual spike in RSV cases in Louisville area

The exterior of Norton Children's Hospital is shown, with trees standing to the left of it.
Norton Children's Hospital
RSV is a seasonal virus. A specialist with Norton Children's said 28 children with RSV were hospitalized at their facility downtown as of Thursday morning.

Norton Healthcare saw an unexpected spike in RSV cases over the past several days. Babies and other young children can be especially vulnerable to the virus.

RSV stands for “respiratory syncytial virus.” Dr. Kristina Bryant, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases who works at Norton Children’s, said most kids get infected with it at least once before age 2.

Historically, it has been the most common cause of hospitalization in kids under 5 years old.

RSV is a seasonal virus. Bryant indicated they’re seeing a later-than-usual spike in infections this year, based on the cases Norton Healthcare is seeing. However, she said it’s too early to say if the 2023 RSV season will be worse than 2022’s was.

Last year, she said they saw a majority of RSV cases in October and November. By this point in the year, cases started to trend down and the worst of RSV season was over.

“This year, it’s a little bit different. We started to see cases tick up in late August [and] early September, but we didn’t see a big spike until this month. And cases are still going up,” she said Thursday. “Last week, within all of Norton Healthcare, we had a record number of kids test positive for RSV.”

Of all the children Norton tests for RSV, Bryant said around 36% have been testing positive. Twenty-eight children with RSV were hospitalized at Norton Children’s Hospital downtown as of Thursday morning, and most of them are under 1 year old.

Dr. Mark Brockman, a pediatrician with Norton Children’s, said symptoms of RSV can run the gamut from a runny nose and a cough to respiratory distress.

“One of the problems with this virus is it does have a whole range of symptoms that somebody can present with,” he said. “Never hesitate to call your pediatrician if you have any concerns whatsoever with your child.”

Brockman said the biggest thing parents should watch out for is if their child has any difficulty breathing, such as if they’re breathing faster than usual, grunting or using their belly to breathe.

Hand-washing can reduce a child’s likelihood of catching the virus.

And if an older child already has symptoms like a runny nose or a cough, Brockman recommends keeping them away from younger kids who can be affected more seriously by an RSV infection.

This year, there have been major medical breakthroughs to help protect people against RSV. An immunization for babies recently became publicly available, although it’s in short supply.

Bryant said Norton offers the vaccine to babies as they’re discharged from its newborn nurseries and NICU.

“We’ll continue to offer this vaccine until the supply we have runs out,” she said.

Pregnant patients also can get a new RSV vaccine that allows their babies to be born with some protection against the virus.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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News healthhealth careYouth Reporting
Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.