Common pediatric viral RSV cases on the rise in Canada

As US children's hospitals report being "overwhelmed" with respiratory virus patients, cases are also increasing in Canada.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common and contagious respiratory virus that often affects young children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, "nearly all children get an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old."

The virus mostly causes mild cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, coughing and fever, but can cause more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, which is inflammation of the small air passages in the lungs. Children under six months and those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and congestive heart failure are among those most at risk for severe complications, which can require hospitalization.

In the US, some hospitals are currently reporting being "overwhelmed" by the surge in young RSV patients.

"This is our March 2020," said Dr. Frank Belmonte of Advocate Children's Hospital in Chicago told ABC News. "So this is the pediatric version of the beginning of the pandemic."

At Connecticut Children's Medical Center, they're even considering bringing in the state's National Guard to help expand hospital capacity.

"I've been at Connecticut Children for 25 years, and I've never seen this spike rate, specifically RSV," their chief physician, Dr. Juan Salazar, told CNN.


The Public Health Agency of Canada has meanwhile reported an increasing number of cases in most countries, and particularly in Quebec, at a time when many Canadian emergency rooms are already struggling with long waiting times and capacity issues.

"Respiratory syncytial virus activity (486 detections; 3.5% positive) was above expected levels for the time of year," the agency's latest weekly Respiratory Virus Report from Oct. 15 stated. Like the flu, RSV infection usually comes in seasonal waves that run from fall to spring.

The current increase in RSV cases is widely attributed to measures to halt the COVID-19 pandemic. In Canada, lockdowns, masks and social distancing contributed to the number of RSV dropping to 239 confirmed cases in the 2020-21 season, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada; down from 18,860 confirmed cases in 2019-20. Experts say less than two years of lack of exposure has left more young children vulnerable at the same time.

"I don't think their immune system has seen the amount of virus that children were used to seeing before the pandemic," said Yale School of Medicine pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Thomas Murray to CNN.

Speaking to in a phone interview on Monday, an infectious disease specialist at Montreal's McGill University Dr. Donald Vinh explained that RSV is similar to COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, is quite contagious and can be easily transmitted in schools.

"We're seeing a return to pre-pandemic with this respiratory virus, except it's not just the respiratory virus from before the pandemic - that added to the mix now is also COVID," Vinh told "So the capacity of our health care system to absorb people who are sick with RSV and flu, superimposed on people who are sick with COVID, well, there's not much room for maneuver there."

At Eastern Ontario Children's Hospital (CHEO) in Ottawa, they are testing twice as many children for the virus now than they were at the end of August.

"CHEO had the busiest April to September at the emergency department in its history; so in 30 years, we've never had that much activity," Dr. Chuck Hui, the hospital's head of infectious diseases, told CTV National News. "We are certainly seeing more activity and more reception across the province."


Although there is no vaccine and nothing specifically treats RSV, most cases do not require a doctor's visit or hospitalization and usually resolve in one to two weeks with plenty of rest and fluids. In more severe cases, children may be given oxygen or intravenous fluids if they have difficulty breathing or are dehydrated.

"RSV is not as serious as COVID in the adult population," said Salazar of the Connecticut Children's Medical Center. "We can take care of these kids."

Michelle Maguire's three-year-old son, James, was discharged from preschool last Monday with a fever. When he tested negative for COVID-19 and his symptoms worsened, his parents took him to the hospital where they were told he had RSV.

"The symptoms start with a fever and poor appetite and quickly include a stuffy nose, runny nose, red eyes in both eyes, and a terrible cough," Maguire told from Calgary. "He has asthma, so it's very worrying to hear him coughing and wheezing so often."

After eight days of resting at home with Tylenol, fluids and lots of chicken soup, James was finally starting to feel better.

"He has a one-year-old sister at home and it's impossible to separate them, but he's not affected so far," Maguire said. "Terrible virus."

Lauren Kelly's daughter, Madeline, is almost two years old. Normally healthy and happy, last weekend he was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, sick and having difficulty breathing diagnosed as RSV.

"He wasn't getting enough oxygen in the emergency room so he had to have BiPap," Kelly told Winnipeg's CTV National News. "I cried the whole way to the hospital because I feel so guilty coming here knowing how busy everyone is and how stressful the system is."

With files from National News Los Angeles CTV Bureau Chief Tom Walters and Writer Michael Lee

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form