Sanford pediatrician discusses rise in out-of-season illnesses

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Doctors are currently seeing an unusual trend with cold-weather viruses making an early appearance and surging during the Summer. These include the common cold, as well as RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which is a common cause of cold-like symptoms but can be serious for infants and the elderly.

KELOLAND News spoke with Sanford pediatrician Jennifer Haggar to discuss the rise in out-of-season illness.

“We’re seeing RSV, which is pretty unprecedented in June and July, and we’re just seeing a lot of the common and regular cold illnesses that we typically see in winter,” she said.

Haggar says the reason for this surge in infections isn’t fully known, but points to limited cases of such viruses in 2020 due to COVID-19 mitigation strategies including increased hand washing and mask wearing. Haggar also points to the reduction of many of those precautionary measures as reasons that these viruses can now more easily take hold.

“For RSV particularly,” says Haggar, “nearly all kids are exposed to that before two years of age, and so I think we’re in a unique situation now where we have almost two years’ worth of kids who haven’t been exposed. So we just have a more susceptible population, which makes it easier for these diseases to spread.”

Haggar says RSV is a very common illness experienced by both children and adults, but that for kids in particular, it can sometimes become serious. “It can lead to problems with low oxygen levels or difficulty breathing,” she said. “RSV is a virus. It causes, in its mild form, a cold, but in more serious forms it can affect the small areas infants use in their lungs to breathe — they can develop a very, very harsh sounding cough.”

While there is no vaccine for RSV, Haggar says some patients that are at the most severe risk of RSV infection can receive an injection of antibodies. These injections however are not currently being given, she says, as they are given in the winter months.

When it comes to keeping yourself and your children healthy, Haggar recommends good hygiene and judgement.

“I think we really saw the power of hygiene with COVID,” Haggar said. “Excellent handwashing, staying home if you’re sick — just knowing that if I as an adult have a mild cold, that cold could be caused by RSV and if I go to visit an infant when I’m sick, I could share that disease with the infant.”

As the year progresses, Haggar encourages everyone to receive their flu vaccination as soon as they can. “It certainly could be an early [flu] season — as soon as one is available, I take my flu vaccine to start getting protected.”

In terms of wearing masks to prevent the spread of illness in general, Haggar spoke supportively.

“I think that we’ve seen the power of masks,” she said. “They really can be effective at preventing illness, and especially if you have a situation where you may have an illness that you could share with someone and you have an extra way to provide protection — I think that that protects those around you.”

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