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So far the state hasn't seen the dramatic early uptick in cases found elsewhere

PMG FILE PHOTO - Children from the Doernbecher Pediatric Cancer department participate in Camp Amazon, a series of STEM activities at the PDX9 Robotic Fulfillment Center in Troutdale OR.

With respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, on the rise in Oregon and many states seeing unusually early spikes in cases and hospitalizations, doctors are closely monitoring the virus.

Like other common respiratory viruses, RSV starts to circulate in the fall as people spend more time indoors and kids return to school. It peaks in the winter. Nearly all children contact an RSV infection by the age of 2, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus typically causes mild cold-like symptoms, but infections can be dangerous, especially for infants, young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems, the CDC says.Judith Guzman-Cottrill

This year, hospital systems in several states have experienced a rapid and severe onset of the virus, and a few have reported shortages in hospital bed capacity. With health officials expecting a fall surge in COVID-19 and a more active flu season, there's concern the uptick in RSV will further strain already stretched-thin emergency departments.

RSV activity in Oregon is about what OHSU doctors expected, but experts are monitoring the virus' spread closely, said Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the OHSU School of Medicine.

Social distancing reduced the spread of common seasonal illnesses in recent years, Guzman-Cottrill said. But now people's immune systems, particularly those of infants and young children who have never been exposed to RSV, may not be as prepared to fight an infection. That reduced immunity might be driving the recent increases in infections and hospitalizations, she added.

RSV season officially began Oct. 29, according to the Oregon Health Authority. The beginning of the season is marked when the two-week average test positivity rate is at or greater than 10% for RSV antigen tests or 3% for PCR tests, according to the CDC.

That day, Oregon's two-week average antigen test positivity rate was 14.1%, the OHA reported. The two-week average PCR test positivity rate was 5.8%. The data from both types of tests met the criteria for the beginning of RSV season.

There were 251 total positive tests statewide during the week ending Oct. 29, including 206 in northwest Oregon/southwest Washington, according to the health authority. That's up from 75 statewide and 51 in northwest Oregon/southwest Washington the week prior.

Ten people statewide were hospitalized with RSV during the week ending Oct. 29, and seven of them were younger than 5, according to the OHA. The prior week there were 11 people hospitalized, including 10 children younger than 5.

Symptoms of an RSV infection often include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever or wheezing. They typically present within six days after someone is infected, and infections usually resolve on their own within a week or two.

Serious symptoms that might require emergency care include trouble breathing, trouble eating due to rapid breathing, wheezing, severe dehydration or lethargy.

"Caring for a sick child can be distressing and we want to assure parents that RSV is a common childhood virus," Guzman-Cottrill said. "Most cases can be treated at home, but those few children who do require hospitalization receive supportive care and fully recover."

RSV spreads through respiratory droplets and, unlike COVID-19, when people touch contaminated surfaces. Health officials recommend disinfecting surfaces, particularly in school and day care settings.

While there is currently no vaccine available for RSV, several vaccines for the virus have shown promise in clinical trials.

"The best thing parents can do is continue to practice the good health and hygiene habits we've learned over the past several years, including frequent handwashing, avoiding contact with anyone who is sick and staying up to date on all vaccines," Guzman-Cottrill said.

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