RSV uptick could be coming back, but DC-area doctors say it should be better than last year

It may not feel like it outside, but late fall and winter are approaching. With that, D.C.-area doctors say they’re worried about the return of a familiar illness — RSV.

“We’ve already been receiving warnings from the CDC that there are RSV cases in the Southeast, which is kind of an indication to us that it’s going to be moving our way soon,” said Dr. Christine Ashburn, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente’s Mid Atlantic Group.

While an increase in RSV cases could be coming soon,  Ashburn says she doesn’t think it’ll be as bad as last year, which saw hospital systems across the region — and the country — overrun with cases in infants.

“So I think this is something that’s still very fresh in a lot of our minds,” she said, adding that they’re monitoring the situation closely.

Ashburn says looking for early signs of this illness in infants and small children is key.

“Watch for fast, rapid breathing,” she said. “Sometimes in babies, you’ll even see the area around their chest sinking in as they’re breathing.”

She also said flared nostrils, prolonged fever, and even rhythmic grunting — or any signs of respiratory distress — are signs your baby is struggling to get air.

“If you think your child could be suffering from RSV, it’s imperative you make an appointment with your health care provider,” she said.

With no real RSV vaccine available, and the illness being a top cause of hospitalization among infants, Ashburn recommended a few ways to stay vigilant and protect your family this season.

“The number one thing I recommend everybody do, no matter what your age is, is just to make sure you’re washing your hands well,” she said.

“For those kids under the age of two, this virus can cause more severe illness,” she continued. “All we can do is to be as prepared as possible, and to take those measures as much as we can.”

Dr. Ashburn said she’s also optimistic about a new antibody treatment for RSV, AstraZeneca’s Beyfortus™ (or nirsevimab, generically), which is designed to help prevent and mitigate the illness’s effects.

The drug was approved by the FDA earlier this year, and while it’s in short supply right now, she hopes more will be available on the market soon.

“It’s given as a single dose, which is better than the prior version of antibody that was given, which required multiple doses,” she said.

Ashburn said the protection lasts about five months — or the duration of the RSV season, which runs from October through February, with peak season starting in December.

“I’m very excited about it,” she said. “I have high hopes that it’s going to prevent a lot of hospitalizations and illness in our most vulnerable babies.”

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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