Wednesday, March 20, 2002
Steamboat Springs As two more children were hospitalized with a potentially dangerous respiratory virus in the past week, Yampa Valley Medical Center has seen a 350-percent increase in the number of RSV patients from last year.
While the two children admitted since Saturday increase the RSV cases at the medical center to 18 this year, area physicians and nurses are expecting the numbers to drop as the weather warms.
Cases of the respiratory infection known as Respiratory Syncytial Virus have been increasing since January and seven children, most younger than the age of 18 months, have been admitted to the hospital in March.
A virus that can become life-threatening and is more susceptible to children younger than the age of 3, RSV is the most frequent winter cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia for infants and children younger than 1.
The year's total of 18 children admitted to the hospital is a sharp increase from 2001, which had four children admitted to the hospital for RSV and 2000, a year that saw seven children hospitalized for the virus.
Dr. Louise Thielen, who has practiced medicine for eight years in Steamboat, said RSV numbers are known to vary drastically from year to year and noted 2001 was a particularly quiet year for RSV in the region.
"It's the natural history (of RSV). It will do this if you look at the statistics year to year," Thielen said. "It kind of happens during years where there are a whole lot of cases, then it settles a little bit before going through another epidemic year."
While Thielen and fellow doctors at Steamboat Medical Group have seen 50 percent more cases of RSV in the past three months than in 2001, she said this has not been the worst year for RSV outbreaks since she has been in Steamboat.
Although the cases have been increasing for the past two months, Thielen predicts numbers will start declining as spring weather arrives. In temperate zones, Thielen said, the virus is mainly rampant during the late winter and early spring.
Patsy Ford of the Visiting Nurse Association, Routt County's public health organization, said that like many winter viruses, RSV has a greater life indoors where children are in close contact.
"The good news is that it is getting to the time of year when RSV terminates. The children are going to be outdoors and it's harder to spread outdoors."
Last week, Dr. Ron Famiglietti said nearly four times the number of children were diagnosed with RSV this year than those that visited his office last year and has since admitted three more children with RSV.
The Steamboat Springs Family Center also said it has seen a higher volume of RSV patients with 10 to 20 diagnoses per week and six children hospitalized this year.
While Steamboat has seen a rise in RSV cases, The Memorial Hospital in Craig has not had an increase in admittance of RSV patients, Community Relations Director Pam Thompson said.
Although the VNA keeps track of the spread of reportable diseases such as chickenpox and measles, Ford said RSV is not a disease physicians or medical facilities are required to report by law. That means no record exists of the total cases of RSV in Steamboat from year to year.
Studies show that most children by the age of 2 have had an RSV infection, but premature newborns, infants with chronic medical problems and children with asthma are particularly at high risk. Even though adults are carriers of RSV, younger children have a harder time fighting off the virus that attacks their airways.
The Centers for Disease Control and prevention has stated that almost 100 percent of children in child care will get RSV in the first year of their lives. Because children can be infectious before symptoms appear, the CDC notes RSV children do not need to be excluded from child care unless they are not well enough to participate in the usual activities.
Ford agrees with the CDC recommendation but cautions parents with high-risk children to be extra careful.
"If I were a parent with (an infant, premature or asthmatic child) in child care this time of year, I'd be particularly careful putting my child in day care if I knew RSV was there," Ford said. "I'd be worried about exposure."