Rise in pediatric flu and RSV cases

November 29, 2022 Providence News Team

Know where and when to seek care for your child

Washington State is experiencing a sharp rise in the number of cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as well as pediatric flu. In November, Washington recorded our first pediatric flu-related death of the season. As a result of the surge in these viruses, our emergency rooms, clinics and urgent care centers are seeing unprecedented patient volumes.  

Prevention is critical! Handwashing, mask wearing, staying home from work, school or day care when sick and avoiding anyone who has respiratory symptoms are vital in preventing the spread of RSV, influenza and COVID-19.  

We want to help you and your family stay well and, whenever possible, out of the hospital and emergency department. At the same time, we want to make sure that you get the care you need when you need it. Our emergency team has some information about RSV and influenza and when and where to seek treatment.  


What is RSV?  

  • RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. It’s one of the many respiratory viruses that causes what we know as cold symptoms in adults and children.  

  • Symptoms can include runny nose, cough, sneezing and fever.  

  • RSV may also cause more significant respiratory symptoms, difficulty breathing and dehydration due to difficulty eating and/or drinking in younger children.  


What is the current concern regarding RSV and influenza?  

  • RSV circulates annually, but this year we are seeing a surge in emergency department visits and high numbers of hospitalizations among children.  

  • We are also concerned about a large influx of patients with other respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19 and influenza.  

  • Hospitals who care for pediatric patients in the Puget Sound are already at or over capacity on a regular basis; wait times are long in emergency departments and inpatient units are full. 


Who is at highest risk?  

  • Infants and young children under the age of 2, though we are seeing some older children and older adults this year requiring hospitalization for RSV.  

  • Infants and children with heart or lung disease or a history of asthma, allergies or eczema.  

  • Anyone with a very compromised immune system or chronic disease.  


How do I know if my child (or other family member) has RSV, the flu or COVID? 

  • For older children, RSV looks and feels like a typical cold, with a runny nose, cough, sneezing, congestion, and sometimes, a fever.   

  • Infants and toddlers are more likely to have RSV symptoms affecting their lungs, such as wheezing, fast breathing, or respiratory distress. This type of infection is called bronchiolitis and can sometimes require oxygen support or other medical care.  

  • Flu frequently causes fever, fatigue, coughing, aches and congestion. 

  • Loss of taste or smell is more specifically associated with COVID.  

  • It’s not always possible to tell which virus is causing symptoms without a test, however most people with cold symptoms do not need to be tested for RSV. There is no specific treatment, and no need to visit a doctor, urgent care or emergency department to get tested for RSV if you are having mild to moderate cold symptoms. 


How do I treat RSV? 

  • Most RSV treatment is supportive care, which means helping your child feel better through their illness.  

  • At-home treatment includes gentle suctioning of the nose to make breathing and feeding easier, a cool mist humidifier, medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to treat fever, and making sure to keep hydrated — especially in babies and children. Babies over the age of 1 year can have honey added to warm fluids to help soothe a sore throat. Over-the-counter cold medications are typically not helpful for children under the age of 5 and can have dangerous side effects, so are best avoided. 


When should I contact my doctor, seek urgent care or emergency care?  

  • If your child is having difficulty breathing, including fast or short breaths, grunting noises, unusual movements of the chest or ribs, or wheezing.  

  • If your child is unable to eat or drink normally. 

  • If your child is showing signs of being less responsive than usual or has a significant change in their level of activity.  

  • If your baby is younger than 2 months of age and has a fever of 100.4 F or higher.  

  • Call 911 if your child has grey or blue color of the mouth, lips or tongue, is having severe difficulty breathing, or you have other emergent concerns. 


If you have questions about RSV or need care for your child, contact your child’s primary care provider. 
For urgent, walk-in or after-hours care, visit a Providence Express Clinic or Providence Urgent Care Clinic. You can also schedule affordable, online care 7 days a week at Providence ExpressCare Virtual. Use our Providence provider directory to find a doctor.  



- The Providence Swedish Emergency Team  

About the Author

The Providence News Team brings you the updates to keep you informed about what's happening across the organizational ecosystem. From partnerships to new doctor announcements, we are committed to keeping you informed.

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