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Respiratory illness at abnormally high numbers, infants being treated in ICU


The generally mild upper respiratory illness called RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is being found in unprecedented numbers in Washoe County. The virus is mild for most but can be far more serious for infants and the elderly.

“We’re having extremely high numbers of RSV very early in the season,” District Health Officer Kevin Dick said this week. “We’ve declared 11 different RSV outbreaks in preschools and daycares and a school in Washoe County.”

The county has seen, since October, RSV numbers it would see for an entire season.

“We’ve had 750 RSV cases [since October],” Dick said. “Now that’s the same amount that we usually have for an entire season.”

Dick said the high numbers are very concerning as pediatric hospital units are at capacity with RSV cases.

Two infants as of Wednesday this week were in intensive care. Infants are more susceptible to the virus because they lack a fully developed ability to breath through their mouths. Plugged noses mean difficulty breathing, especially when they are feeding.

Most people recover from RSV within one to two weeks. 

The virus normally peaks in December through February, but the pandemic changed people’s immunity to the virus. Masking and social distancing led to a decline in RSV, which means children had not been exposed to it to the same degree as in the past.

“We weren’t all exposed to the RSV virus and immunity shifted,” Renown’s Dr. Kris Deter said. “There’s lots of reasons, lots of factors going into why we’re seeing such a surge come across our country right now and why it’s now on the West Coast.”

There is no treatment for RSV. Over-the-counter cold and flu medicine can help alleviate symptoms.

Read more about RSV at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/transmission.html

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.